Wundt was the first person to call himself a psychologist as he believed the human mind could be studied scientifically through experimental methods. In his lab in Germany he studied aspects of human behaviour under controlled experimental conditions such as reaction time and perception tests. He aimed to study the structure of the human mind by breaking down behaviours into basic elements. This approach was known as structuralism and the techniques he used are known as introspection.
However, Wundt soon realised that higher mental processes such as learning, language and emotions can’t be investigated in such a controlled way. These topics would need to be described in terms of general trends in behaviour. He described this field as cultural psychology.
The term Introspection comes from the Latin meaning ‘looking into’. It refers to the process by which a person gains knowledge about their own emotional or mental states. Wundt claimed that mental processes such as memory & perception could be observed systematically through introspection eg observers might be shown an object & asked to reflect upon how they are perceiving it.
Introspection Key Studies
Wundt’s study of perception using introspection: Participants were presented with carefully controlled stimuli e.g. visual images or auditory tones Ps were then asked to describe the inner processes they were experiencing as they looked at the picture or listened to the tone. This made it possible to compare different Ps reports and therefore establish theories about perception.
Introspection in practise: Griffiths (1994) conducted a study to investigate the thought processes of people who gambled regularly and those that did not gamble. He proposed that the thought processes of gamblers would be more irrational than non-gamblers. Ps were asked to ‘think aloud’ while playing a fruit machine by saying everything that went through their mind & by talking continuously. They were told not to try to justify their thoughts. As expected, Griffiths found that the gamblers did have more irrational thoughts.
Criticism's of Wundt's Methods
His methods are considered to be unreliable. Although Ps could report on their conscious experiences, the processes themselves e.g. memory and perception are considered to be unobservable. Introspective ‘experimental’ results could not reliably be reproduced by other researchers.
It is claimed that we have little knowledge of the causes & processes underlying our behaviour. This means that introspective reports may not be accurate eg in one study Ps were unaware of factors that influenced their choice of consumer goods.
People are also particularly unaware of their own hidden attitudes or stereotypical thinking e.g. someone may hold sexist views that influence their behaviour. But if they are unaware of this thinking, self-reports through introspection would not help us to understand their behaviour.