History of Psychology History of Psychology Academics have always been interested in how the mind works and indeed psychology has existed in one form or another for many years, but other subjects, especially philosophy, have often overshadowed it. Often it was seen as not scientific and philosophical in the sense that there seemed to be no concrete answers within the subject. Now it is one of the most popular subjects to study and has a firm place within the sciences. It is interesting to consider how this formulation of psychology as a science arose and how this new psychology and the old psychology have been merged together. The aim of this essay is to consider Wundt and James’s involvement in this transitional process between philosophy and psychology.
The evidence presented should show that Wundt and James were extremely instructive and influential figures in the history of psychology. Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt, the son of an Evangelical pastor, was born near Manheim, Germany, on 16 August 1832. He was from an academic family with members who were scientists, professors, government officials and physicians. He was often inattentive in his own schooling and was a habitual daydreamer. He failed his first year of high school and was sent to Heidelberg to live with an aunt. Here he improved academically and graduated at age 19.
He decided to embark on a career in medicine and indeed excelled in this area. His achievements lead him into the field of physiology and he decided to proceed into the academic side of this subject by becoming a lecturer. As a lecturer at Heidelberg Wundt earned a very low salary so he began to teach courses privately. His first course in experimental physiology he taught in his own home and attracted only four students. Wundt wished to further his career by both private teaching and private studies.
His studies at this time were connected with earlier work in the fields of physiology and astronomy however these studies also carried implications for a future science of psychology. It was in these scientific experiments that Wundt developed his ideas for a hybrid of philosophy and physiology, which would eventually become psychology. He formulated two branches of psychology. The branch he is most famous for is experimental psychology. In this he took his experiences as a philosopher studying the mind and experiences in physiology studying the body and created a new area of science. He believed the mind could be studied in relation to the body and by controlled experimental conditions new hypotheses could be formulated and either supported or not in this new field.
He did not believe however, that the experimental method would prove enough to provide a balanced view of the science of psychology. He also devised what he termed Volkerpsychologie (ethnic or folk psychology). This embraced especially the study of language, myth and custom. Once he had devised these two new branches he began to actively pursue them. In the summer of 1862 Wundt offered a new course of lectures on the experimental side entitled “Psychology from the standpoint of Natural Science”.
He also wrote “Lectures on the Human and Animal Mind” (published in1863 and 1864) which was the start of Wundt’s investigation into Volkerpsychology. Wundt resigned from his post and became even more dependent on and involved in his private studies. In 1867 Wundt was invited to write for a journal entitled “Recent Advances in the field of Physiological Psychology”. His article aroused more attention than anything else he had written and convinced many that a new scientific psychology was truly on the horizon (Fancher, 1996, page155). In this way Wundt began to become an extremely influential man.
He had defined this new science and succeeded in making it an independent subject. He had written the first widely read articles on this new area and he had begun to devise explicit rules for his experimental method in psychology. As his ideas grew so did his influence and this was apparent in 1874 when he produced his book Principles of Physiological Psychology. As well as clarifying his ideas and this new area it was also heralded as the first genuine textbook for Psychology. In 1875 he accepted a full professorship at Leipzig and it is here that Wundt cemented his place as one of the great innovators of psychology.
He installed the first fully-fledged programme in experimental psychology and as he became more established his area grew dramatically. By 1879 he had the first working research laboratory explicitly devoted to experimental psychology and students flocked to study this new science with him. In his new official “institute” of psychology graduate students could study for PhDs in experimental psychology. He was extremely important as he trained the first generation of psychologists. In 1881 he founded the journal Philosophische Studien (Philosophical Studies) this meant that his research laboratories could publish their findings it also meant that word of this new domain of science could be more widely spread.
By the 1900’s there were more than 100 psychology laboratories world-wide and psychology was recognised as an important and academic subject. Wundt continued to publish right up to his death in 1920. It is mostly his institutional developments that have lead to Wundt often being regarded as the ‘father’ of psychology. If Wundt was the founder of psychology then William James was the man who brought the science to life in the United States. He has been described as the first of the ‘new’ psychologists in the U.S.
William James was born on 11 January 1842 in New York City. He was the eldest child of a wealthy, unconventional family. His father moved the family around America and Europe and was plagued be panic attacks and nervous problems. All the children were educated privately and in this unusual household they were encouraged to formulate and discuss their own personal opinions from an early age. James as a child was interested in and showed great aptitude at art but this career was quickly terminated by his father.
James was encouraged to go into science so in 1861 James went to Harvard, where he first studied chemistry and then changed to physiology. In 1864 he enrolled at Harvard’s Medical School. After suffering from health problems James’s future was uncertain and after suffering episodes similar to his fathers he was in despair. However, he completed his medical degree but his interests were beginning to emerge in another field-philosophy. His career still unstable and the fact that he had no real experience in any area worried James, but at last in 1872 he got he opportunity he had been waiting for.
He was asked to teach on a newly instituted physiology course at Harvard. James excelled as a teacher provoking enthusiasm and interest from his students. He was charming and vivacious and very much involved personally with many of his students. He conveyed his own love of a subject to his students beautifully and with ease. James had no formal training in this area and often was learning the material himself days or hours before his lectures.
He soon renamed the course ” The Relations between Physiology and Psychology” and while he was working on his book The Principles of Psychology, between 1878 and 1890, he focused exclusively on psychology. As James’s interest in psychology grew so he was determined to spread its message. He was extremely influential in this area as he brought the new science to life and taught in a way that all could understand. He had himself benefited from his readings with regard to his nerve problems and was determined that his students would see psychology’s worth and importance in everyday life. In 1890 James’s book The Principles of Psychology was published and even when not original, an old theme was given new life by its brilliance of formulation (Watson, 1963, page 325).
James proved himself to be an accomplished writer and his exciting way of conveying psychology lead to it quickly becoming the leading psychology text in English. In later years James’s interest in psychology dwindled and he worked more in philosophy. However, James can be seen as the man that not only spread the new science academically but who brought it to the people. As well as instilling great interest in his students he also wrote another book Briefer Course in 1892 which was read by people from all walks of life. He helped bring psychology into the classroom by applying its theories to everyday life.
He was extremely important in the spread of psychology around the United States. James was influential in a way that previously academics had been wary of. Wundt liked to control all his research but James positively forced his students to think for themselves and to take psychology forward as a science. James had no particularly new psychological ideas for his students to adhere to and he encouraged and inspired them to develop their own individual approaches. Three of James’s students G.
Stanley Hall, Mary Whiton Calkins and Edward Lee Thorndike went on to contribute significantly to the development of American psychology. Wundt certainly had no startling new theories with relation to psychology but he succeeded in merging physiology and philosophy and making psychology an independent subject in its own right. He modelled his innovations on the progressions he saw in the other sciences. Although not a inspiring man he was the first man who could be called a psychologist without qualifying the statement by reference to another, stronger interest (Leahey, 1980,page 241). He also wrote the first texts on psychology and this succeeded in highlighting this new domain of science. Wundt’s experimental psychology has influenced the psychology seen today and has helped to cement psychology’s place within the other sciences.
James had no fresh ideas about psychology; indeed his own interests seemed to lie with philosophy. However, drawing on his own experiences of psychology’s real life uses he gave the subject meaning for all. He allowed this new psychology to be read and understood by the masses. He inspired and encouraged his students and was definitely influential in the future of psychology due to the high calibre of students he gave to the field of psychology. `If Wundt founded psychology then James could be said to have brought it alive and to the people.
REFERENCES Fancher, R,E. 1996. Pioneers of Psychology.W.W.Norton & Company Ltd, London. Leahey, T,H. 1980. A History of Psychology.Prentice-Hall,Inc,United States of America.
Watson, R,I. 1963. The Great Psychologists.J.B.Lippincott Company, Philadelphia & New York.