Wundt & 19th Century German Psychology

I. The 19th century and the beginnings of a scientific psychology

Synthesis of one discipline of psychology from two others: philosophy and physiology

Philosophy: Studies in epistemology, metaphysics, logic and ethics

Physiology: Experimental science of the functions of the body

Empirical grounding of consciousness in matter
Experimental methods on knowing

Psychology and Physiology: many views developed over time (Leahey, 2001)

Gall (1758-1828): Phrenology
Flourens (1794-1867): Whole brain
Galvani (1737-1798): Electrical impulses
Bell (1744-1842) Magendie (1783-1855)
Bell-Magendie Law: Ascending sensory (dorsal)
    and descending motor (ventral) pathways
Broca (1824-1880): Localization (1861)
Fritz & Hitzig (1870): Electrical "mapping" of brain
Bain (1818-1903): Associationism
Taine (1828-1893): Parallelism
Lotze (1817-1881): Dualism

III. The Germanic tradition: Synthesis of philosophy and physiology

A) Philosophy:

Gottfried Wilhem von Leibniz (1646-1716): Monadology

Co-inventor of calculus (with Newton)

Monads:Consciousness is the essence of all things.
Monads are "point sources" of consciousness

Degrees of consciousness in all things

Parallelism: Mind and body move together but independently

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): Rational Empiricism

Intuition of Self as noumena (things as they are) through phenomena (experiences)


Influenced Hegel's

Johann Freidrich Herbart (1776-1841): Mathematise psychology
Apperceptive mass of consciousness (ideas) through assimilation

1870: Unification of Germany and support for
state universities in both research and teaching
Tradition of Romanticism: Will

Bildung: "personality development" through understanding languages and cultures

B) Physiology:

Johannes Muller: Doctrine of "Specific nerve energies"
Vitalism and the "Blood-pact"
-Ludwig, Du Bois-Reymond, Brucke &

Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894): Grand Scientist

-Expert in physics, optics & acoustics
-Measured speed of neural impulses
-Theory of conservation of energy

-Theory of unconscious inference
-Developed a Trichromatictheory of vision

- Cloud formations(liquid dynamics)


Ewald Herring (1834-1918): Colour vision

Opponent Process theory of colour vision
Negative afterimages

Christine Ladd-Franklin (1847-1930):


-Evolutionary theory of colour vision that integrated Helmholtz & Herring
-Logician comparable to Aristotle


Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801-1887): Psychophysics (1860)

-Developed E.H. Weber's (1795-1878) work on:
"Two-point threshold", "Just Noticeable Difference", and "Spatial Sense"

Psychophysical parallelism: Mind and Body are "two sides of the same circle";  seen from two "standpoints" an idea  reminiscent of Aristotle's Dual-aspect monism



Natural science





"Internal standpoint"

"External standpoint"

Two kinds of sensations:



Common (pleasure, hunger)

Objective (light & sound)

Psychophysics: An exact science which
establishes mathematical relationships between
physical and psychic magnitudes

Weber's Law: dR/R = K --- J.N.D.

Weber-Fechner function: S = K log R

Absolute Threshold: Limen (Boundary)
of minimal intensity for conscious sensation

Difference Threshold: Change in intensity for a JND

Establishment of methods of psychophysics: through three methods

  1. Method of just noticeable differences (Limits)
  2. Method of right and wrong cases
  3. Method of average error

Held spiritualistic "Day view" over materialistic "Night view"

Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920): Voluntarism

  Active in politics: "Fireside conversations" to Workers Education League.
Spoke "On Time", Speed of thought,...

-Arnold family tradition of physiologists
-Studied under J.Muller & Du Bois-Reymond, and was an assistant to Helmholtz

Voluntarism: All psychic phenomena are products of creative synthesis or "acts of will."

"Trieb": Mind & body drive

Unity of creative synthesis through three principles -

  1. Principle of psychical resultants: synthetic
  2. Principle of psychical relations: analytic
  3. Principle of psychical contrasts: association

Psychological parallelism:

"[S]tarts with the assumption that there is only one
experience" which can be viewed in two manners

Psychic Actuality: Immediate experience of inner phenomena

Physical Substantiality: Mediate experience of outer phenomena

Psychical causality: Qualitative creative
synthesis of the whole of consciousness

Physical causality: Quantitative cause and effect

Voluntary action: (Psychically caused) precedes involuntary action

Attention:The process of active synthesis involving
a broad field of apprehension and a narrow focus of apperception

Assimilations: Passive associations

Experimental Psychology

1879: First psychological laboratory in Leipzig

Reaction times, judgments of size, intensity and duration

Goals are to establish the Laws of psychology
through a careful study of consciousness or immediate experience

Experimentelle Selbstbeobachtung: Experimental self-observation
Observers "are exposed to standard repeatable stimuli and situations and are asked to respond in simple quantifiable ways"


Range of topics for psychology using both experimental and historical methods

Sensation and perception
         Memory, attention, imagery
                     Thinking, affect, voluntary activity, social psychology
   Laboratory - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Social Worlds
   Natural Science - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Human Science
Tension between subject matter and methods

Volkerpsychologie (1900): Psychological anthropology

Historical studies of outer (mediate) phenomena
Language, Religion (& Myth), and Custom:
Expressions of the "common sense" or worldview
(weltanshauung) of a social group

Four Ages of Mankind:
Primitive, Totemic, Age of Heroes & Gods, Humanity

Volkgeist "Folk mind": Synthesis of an order higher
than that of the numerous individual creative syntheses

Actualized towards willful purposes of the "overindividual"

Haeberlin (1980): Gesamtgeist (social mind) and
gesamtwille (social will) as "overindividual syntheses"
which correspond to the individual mind and will

 Gave rise to contemporary Cultural Psychology

Repudiation of Wundt

Danziger (1990): Charcot (France) and Galton (Britain)
offered alternative models of scientific psychology

In Germany too: Ebbinghaus (1879) studies on memory

Oswald Kulpe (1862-1915) and the Wurzburg School:
Systematic Experimental Introspection

More complex methods than Wundt:

problem solving and reflection on the process of thought

Revealed that one experienced "imageless thought"
Sparked controversy over methods of introspection

Determining tendency: Task directs itself through "mental set"

Titchener (1867-1927): Structuralism

Anglicized Wundt's work in translation

Psychology is the study of the elements of conscious content

Sensations, images and affections are examined for:
quality, intensity, extensity, protensity (duration)

Perspective invovles:
Reductionism, Associationism & Materialism

Three tasks for experimental psychology:

  1. Complete description of sensory elements
  2. Determine the connections between elements
  3. Need to explain consciousness in physiology

Stimulus error: Confusing the stimulus object with the conscious experience

Foundations to Gestalt Psychology:

Christian Ehrenfels (1859-1932)
Alexis Meinong (1853-1920)