The History of Psychology: The New Psychology

Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) established the Leipzig laboratory and conducted many studies about the nature of conscious experience. He introduced the following terminology: voluntarism, which describes the mind’s ability to form abstract high-level phenomena out of simple ones; mediate experience, the subjective impression or a subject’s association to an experience; and immediate experience, the unbiased, objective experience. Wundt adapted Socrates idea of introspection, which is the process of tracing one’s own thought.

Wundt was rather interested in experimenting observable facts. To improve the conditions for his tests, he suggested that experiments must be set up to in a way to make them repeatable, and the experimental conditions must be capable of variation. Wundt wanted to analyze the conscious processes and find their basic elements; discover how these elements are organized; and determine the laws of connection leading to this structure. By applying his idea of introspection, he developed the model of three-dimensional theory of feelings. The three dimensions were: pleasure, tension, and excitement. He further proposed the doctrine of apperception. The “creative synthesis” of thought elements combine and organize each other while being in the process of apperception.

Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909) was possibly the first researcher that examined “real” psychological phenomena: learning & forgetting and memory. In his experiments he set up nonsense syllables that are meaningless series of syllables to explore how subjects learned short texts vs. long texts, nonsense sentences vs. associated words, etc. He estimated it would take 9 times more effort to memorize unassociated syllables compared to normal words.

Georg Elias Mueller (1850-1934) believed that Ebbinghaus’ learning approach was too mechanistic. His idea was that forgetting rather results through learning new material; thus, forgetting is losing the track to previous elements since learning involves strengthening the new associations. This theory is called: interference theory of forgetting.

Franz Bretano (1838-1917) suggested a new system to view upon psychology. His act psychology theory states that experience is a structure as well as a process. For example, while visually perceiving an object, we experience its shape or color; however, we also keep a mental element in mind representing this object.

Carl Stumpf (1848-1936) in contrast to Wundt changed the model of introspection into phenomenology. This kind of introspection is examining unbiased experience and treating it as a whole rather that splitting it into parts or single elements.

Oswald Kuelpe (1862-1915) allowed subjects in experiments to report their way of thought to solve a complex problem. He referred to this as systematic experimental introspection. He also added to Wundt’s theory of conscious experience that experience is also generated by thought; the idea of imageless thought, then, states that elements of thought can be other than sensorial components.

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The history of psychology is an exciting subject! Below are more links to several related essays on the subject.

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