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Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt (August 16, 1832 – August 31, 1920) was a German physiologist and psychologist. He is generally acknowledged as a founder of experimental psychology and cognitive psychology.

Wundt combined philosophical introspection with techniques and laboratory apparatuses brought over from his physiological studies with Helmholtz, as well as many of his own design. This experimental introspection was in contrast to what had been called psychology until then, a branch of philosophy where people introspected themselves. Wundt argued that "we learn little about our minds from casual, haphazard self-observation...It is essential that observations be made by trained observers under carefully specified conditions for the purpose of answering a well-defined question." (Principles of Physiological Psychology, translated by Edward Titchener, 1904)

The methods Wundt used are still used in modern psychophysical work, where reactions to systematic presentations of well-defined external stimuli are measured in some way--reaction time, reactions, comparison with graded colors or sounds, and so forth. His chief method of investigation was called "introspection" in the terminology of the time, though "observation" may be a better translation.

Wundt subscribed to a "psychophysical parallelism" (which entirely excludes the possibility of a mind-body/cause-effect relationship), which was supposed to stand above both materialism and idealism. His epistemology was an eclectic mixture of the ideas of Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, and Hegel.

Wundt's life and works

Wundt was born August 16, 1832 at Neckarau, in Baden - The fourth child to parents Maximilian Wundt (a Lutheran minister), and his wife Marie Frederike. He studied from 1851 to 1856 at Tübingen, Heidelberg, and Berlin. After graduating in medicine from the University of Heidelberg in 1856, Wundt studied briefly with Johannes Müller before joining the University of Heidelberg, where he became an assistant to the physicist and physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz in 1858. There he wrote Contributions to the Theory of Sense Perception (1858 - 1862). He married his wife, Sophie Mau, while at Heidelberg.

It was during this period that Wundt offered the first course ever taught in scientific psychology, stressing the use of experimental methods drawn from the natural sciences. His lectures on psychology were published as Lectures on the Mind of Humans and Animals (1863). He was promoted to Assistant Professor of Physiology in 1864.

Bypassed in 1871 for the appointment to succeed Helmholtz, Wundt applied himself to writing a work that came to be one of the most important in the history of psychology, Principles of Physiological Psychology (1874). The Principles advanced a system of psychology that sought to investigate the immediate experiences of consciousness, including sensations, feelings, volitions, apperception, and ideas.

In 1875 he took up a position at the University of Leipzig, and almost immediately set up one of the first two psychological laboratories in the world (the other was created by William James, in the United States, that same year). Two years later he founded a journal of psychology, Philosophical Studies. He remained in Leipzig until his death, supervising 186 doctoral dissertations in various disciplines.

Wundt died in 1920, having completed his 10-volume masterwork, Völkerpsychologie (social psychology). In 1874, he published Grundzüge der physiologischen Psychologie, English translation, Principles of Physiological Psychology, which is the standard textbook of the science. His works include:

  • Die Lehre von der Muskelbewegung (1858)
  • Beiträge zur Theorie der Sinneswahrnehmung (1862);
  • Vorlesungen über die Menschen- und Tierseele (1863)
    • English translation, Lectures on Human and Animal Psychology;
  • Lehrbuch der Physiologie des Menschen (1865);
  • Die physikalischen Aœiome und ihre Beziehung zum Kausalprincip (1866);
  • Handbuch der medizinischen Physik (1867);
  • Untersuchungen zur Mechanik der Nerven und Nervencentren (1871-76);
  • Der Spiritismus, eine sogenannte wissenschaftliche Frage (1879);
  • Logik, eine Untersuchung der Principien der Erkenntnis und der Methode wissenschaftlicher Forschung (1880-83); * Essays (1885);
  • Ethik, eine Untersuchung der Thatsachen und Gesetze des sittlichen Lebens (1886),
    • English translation, Ethics: An Investigation of the Facts and Laws of the Moral Life;
  • Zur Moral der literarischen Kritik (1887);
  • System der Philosophie (1889);
  • Hypnotismus und Suggestion (1892);
  • Grundriss der Psychologie (1896),
    • English translation, Outlines of Psychology;
  • Völkerpsychologie, eine Untersuchung der Entwicklungsgesetze von Sprache, Mythus, und Sitte (1900);
  • Einleitung in die Philosophie (1901);
  • Sprachgeschichte und Sprachpsychologie (1901);
  • Festrede zur fünfhundert jährigen Jubelfeier der Universität Leipzig (1909);
  • Principien der mechanischen Naturlehre (1910);
  • Kleine Schriften (1910);
  • Probleme der Völkerpsychologie (1911);
  • Einführung in die Psychologie (1911),
    • English translation, Introduction to Psychology;
  • Elemente der Völkerpsychologie (1912);
  • Reden und Aufsätze (1913);
  • Anfänge der Phylosophie und die Philosophie der primitiven Völker (1913);
  • Sinnliche und übersinnliche Welt (1914);
  • Deutschland im Lichte des neutralen und des feindlichen Auslandes (1915);
  • Die Nationen und ihre Philosophie (1915).

An optical illusion described by him is called Wundt illusion.

Wundt's library

After his death, his heirs sold off a large proportion on his personal library. Some 16,000 items, (about 60% of the total), were bought by Tanenari Chiba and are now in the library at Tohoku University, Japan.

Wundt's Impact

Several of Wundt's students became eminent psychologists in their own right:

Wundt's laboratory students called their approach Ganzheit Psychology ("holistic psychology") following Wundt's death.

Much of Wundt's work was derided mid-century in America because of a lack of adequate translations, misrepresentations by certain students, and behaviorism's bias against the structuralist program. Titchener, a two-year resident of Wundt's lab and one of Wundt's most vocal "proponents" in the United States, is responsible for several English translations and mistranslations of Wundt's works that supported his own views and approach, which he termed structuralism and claimed was wholly consistent with Wundt's position.

Titchener's focus on internal structures of mind was rejected by Skinnerian behaviorists, who dominated psychological studies in the mid century. Part of this rejection included Wundt, whose work fell into eclipse during this period. It is only in the late twentieth century that his true positions and techniques have seen reconsideration and reassessment by major American psychologists.


Works by Wundt

  • Wundt,W. (1862)Beiträge zur Theorie der Sinneswahrnehmung, Leipzig,
  • Wundt,W. (1873-4)Grundzüge der physiologischen Psychologie, 2 vols,
  • Wundt,W.(1893)Vorlesungen über die Menschen und Thierseele, Leipzig,
  • Wundt,W. (1896) Grundriss der Psychologie, Leipzig, .
  • Wundt,W.(1903) Grundzüge der physiologischen Psychologie, fifth edition, 4 volumes,
  • Wundt,W. Völkerpsychologie, 10 volumes, Leipzig,
  • Wundt, W. (1905) Grundriss der Psychologie, Leipzig: Engelmann.

Further reading

  • Konig E (1901) W.Wundt. Seine Philosophie und Psychologie (Stuttgart: Fromanns)
  • Meischner W and Eschler E, (1979) Wilhelm Wundt (Cologne: Pahl-Rugenstein)
  • Madelkorn, Jeff and Mistler, Brian J. (2005). Wilhelm Wundt: A Short Biography of his Life,

Works, and Connections. In James Burke (Ed.) Knowledge-Web.

Accounts of Wundt's laboratory

  • Cattell, James McKeen. (1888). The psychological laboratory at Leipsig. Mind, 13, 37-51.[ Full text
  • Nicolas, S., Gyselinck, V., Murray, D. J., & Bandomir, C.A. (2002). French descriptions of Wundt’s laboratory in Leipzig in 1886. Psychological Research, 66, 208-214.

External links

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