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Introspective Psychology

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Brief history of Introspective Psychology

(Estimated Reading Time: 6 min, 52 sec)

Q: When and how was Introspective Psychology born? How did it develop?

Here we give some information about the origin and evolution of psychology.

Later on, in a next page, we will describe the collaboration among art, psychology and introspection – all valid tools to Emotional Well-being.

Psychology – from the origins to Wundt (Part 1)

Early in the 16th century, the German Lutheran humanist Philipp Melanchthon was already using the term “psychology”.

Plato, Aristotle and many other philosophers had already spoken about the psyche considered as soul, vital breath, immaterial part of the human being.

Over the centuries, the objects and methods of psychology have been manifold.

They gave rise to contrasts among scholars, starting with the problem which occurred in the mid-nineteenth century in full scientific positivism, whether psychology could be a science.

Scientific rigor, that is common to mathematics and the sciences of nature, becomes more and more important, both in the methodological premises and in the experimental situations of psychology.


Kant – the empirical doctrine of the soul

“Kant inheriting and continuing the criticism of the English empiricists on the possibility of a philosophical or rational psychology, with a priori-deductive character, had also denied the possibility of an empirical psychology.

He resolved the latter into a descriptive anthropology, excluded from the realm of true sciences, because of a listing and classifying nature.

In the ‘Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaft’ (‘Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science’, 1786), Kant claimed that the empirical doctrine of the soul must always remain far from being considered a natural science, worthy of this name, (…) – since mathematics is not applicable to the phenomena of the inner sense and their laws.” Ludovico Geymonat; Storia del Pensiero Filosofico e Scientifico, VI – Dall’Ottocento al Novecento, Capitolo secondo: La Nascita della Psicologia Scientifica by Franca Meotti.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the first psychological schools grew up.

Their primary interests were the neurology and physiology of the nervous system.

The first affirmation of psychology as an autonomous discipline, with its own object and methods and its own quantitative measuring instruments, dates back to 1879, with the Laboratory of Experimental Psychology of Leipzig, founded by Wilhelm Wundt.

Wilhelm Wundt (Wikipedia image). Important figure in the History of Introspective Psychology

Wundt’s method of introspection

The German psychologist Wundt introduced an introspection method.

It based on the descriptive study of the sensations that the experimental subject perceived in successive phases of stimulation.

The subject had to describe the sensory processes perceived with meticulous care.

Through Wundt’s scientific study of the elementary functions of mind (such as sensation and perception), psychology received reliability and authority.

Many schools of thought criticized Wundt’s method of introspection.

Detractors considered this method inappropriate for the study of unconscious processes – they did not consider them as a subject of psychological research. –

They found it unable to grasp the higher psychic processes, because it reports not what happens, but how the subject thinks things happen.

Because of this consideration, Wundt gave up this method in favor of the positivistic paradigm.

He preferred to look for a new, more objective, measurable, and standardizable experimental method.

Titchener’s Experimental Introspectionism

By author died more than 70 years ago -, Public Domain,
Edward Titchener, a promotere of Introspective Psychology. (Photo By author died more than 70 years ago –, Public Domain,

Edward Bradford Titchener, an exponent of structuralism and disciple of Wundt, continued Introspection.

He affirmed that introspection is the best method for a study of the mind.

For Titchener, ego and Self are in a dimension that cannot undergo experimental investigation, and are extraneous to scientific psychology.

The purpose of psychological investigation is to describe the contents of consciousness and to highlight the laws and patterns that govern their combination and succession.

“The main tool Titchener used to determine the different components of consciousness was introspection. Titchener writes in his Systematic Psychology: ’The state of consciousness which is to be the matter of psychology … can become an object of immediate knowledge only through introspection or self-awareness.’ and in his book ‘An Outline of Psychology: ‘… within the sphere of psychology, introspection is the final and only court of appeal, that psychological evidence cannot be other than introspective evidence.” (psychology)

So, from 1879 to 1905, the introspective method in psychology survived, despite many vicissitudes and conflicts between scholars.

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