Structuralism and Functionalism by Wundt and James

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Table of Contents

  • Wundt and Structuralism
  • Gestalt Psychology
  • James and Functionalism

William James (1842-1910) once said, 'The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”, known as the father of American Psychology, James gives us insight into the fact that The Science of Psychology is less about the scientific perspective and mainly about the humanistic perspective. In as much as psychology does address questions about the mind from a scientific point of view, it can also lead you to understand yourself and others in different ways.

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Psychology is defined as the study of the mind. The word “Psychology” comes from two Greek words: psyche which means soul and logos which means “the objective study of”. According to Cacioppo and Freberg (2016) state that psychological scientists view the mind as a way of talking about the activities of the brain, including thought, emotion, and behavior. Psychology is a way of understanding people and their behavioral patterns, as well as figuring out why people do the things that they do. It is also extremely vital to any mental health issues and illness, psychology aims to find the root of the problem and find a solution. Psychology plays a vital role in people's lives, as feelings and actions could be explained from a psychological point of view by a psychologist. The science of psychology is very important in the workplace, especially in the court of law during cross-examinations and in any field where interaction between people is most likely to occur. Psychology is broad and has a lot of history behind its discovery, and how much it has grown till now.

Wundt and Structuralism

Discovered by a German man, named Wilhelm Wundt, also known for performing the first-ever psychological experiment in his laboratory at the University of Leipzig in 1879, which also became known as the year that Psychology was discovered. Wundt also established the theory of Structuralism, which was mainly identified with Edward Titchener. The theory of structuralism basically meant that the mind could be broken into smaller elements of mental experiences, the same way in which chemicals could be broken down into smaller molecules. Structuralism sought to analyze the adult mind (defined as the total of experience from birth to the present) in terms of the simplest definable components and then to find how these components fit together in complex forms (The Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016).

Gestalt Psychology

Following the theory of Structuralism established by Wundt and Titchener, according to Cacioppo and Freberg (2016), the structuralists’ effort to break behavior into essential elements was rejected by a group of early 20th-century German psychologists, including Kurt Koffka, Max Wertheimer, and Wolfgang Kohler, who founded Gestalt Psychology. Even though there is no clear English translation for the word, Gestalt means “form” or “whole”. In layman’s terms, Gestalt’s theory has been established around the idea that the whole of anything is greater than its parts because the Gestalt psychologists believed that important information could be lost if the mind were to be broken down into smaller elements. Also believing that the structuralists’ would have a hard time explaining why the smaller elements of mental experiences would lead to different conclusions.

James and Functionalism

Functionalism can be defined as a broad school of thought originating in the U.S. during the late 19th century that attempted to counter the German school of Structuralism. Functionalists, including psychologists William James and James Rowland Angell. These individuals were more concerned more with the capability of the mind than with the process of thought, (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, 2017). Functionalism viewed behavior as purposeful because it led to survival. James and the other functionalists were more intrigued by the mental processes, and less in the thought process. It was believed that even though Structuralism came and went, all contemporary psychologists were functionalists at heart (Cacioppo and Freberg).

I have always been interested in human behavior because I have always felt out of place and alone wherever ever I ended up, and I never understood why people would treat me as an outsider. Due to me being an introvert, I was alone most of my schooling life and it made it hard to communicate with people or even voice my own opinions. My interest in Psychology came about when I was trying to understand the different personality types around me, and I never understood why we as people were so different or even why we did/said the things we do. Personally, I have been dealing with mental health issues for a few years and it has never been easy and because I was always alone, I had no one to talk to. So, my decision to study psychology is inspired by my personal pain, I don’t want anyone to feel the kind of loneliness that I still feel even to this day.

I’m studying towards becoming a Clinical Psychologist with a private practice, that will hopefully expand to what I think of as a Psychology Clinic/Organization/Foundation. I want to make a difference in the lives of the hurt and pain, for the alone and those who feel hopeless and I know that this course will the right step in that direction. Psychology as the study of the mind and human behaviors is an extraordinary journey to learning in-depth about the human brain and in understanding human actions. It is the type of study that evolves every day as discoveries are made, and the human brain continues to unleash new mysteries for scientists, psychologists to uncover. It also provides us with more information so that we can learn to understand our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

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