Opposing Schools of Thought

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It all began with William Wundt. He was a German philosopher and psychologist. He was responsible for establishing the first lab in the world solely dedicated to experimental psychology. Although Edward Titchner, a student of William Wundt, is given credit for the term structuralism, it was mapped out and began with William Wundt.

Most of the progress in science at this time was being made with a practice called elementism. The process of elementism is breaking down complex phenomena into its most basic parts. One may say that this takes the engine apart and looks at the pieces.

Consciousness was the main focus of structuralism. Wundt believed that there were three main tasks of psychology. They were:
1. analyse the consciousness process into basic elements
2. explore how these elements become connected
3. determine and state the laws of connection

An example of one of the experiments that may have been done with the study of structuralism is the assistant would give verbal clues to describe an object and the subject would then guess the object. So the subject would be told crisp, cold, and sweet.  The subject was supposed to come with an apple.

Structuralism has been deemed  the “first school of psychology”. It was not long lived, but it opened the door for all other approaches to psychology.  It made psychology a science.

Functionalism was seen as a protest to the ideas of structuralism. John Dewy is given credit for the birth of functionalism. He was a pragmatist and this is reflected in his work.  Functionalism was concerned with common sense issues and how they could relate to social interactions and education.  It was not how the mind worked and the processes, but how the mind made one behave and relate to others.

One of the key notes of functionalism was the process of natural continuous flow. This sets up the sensory, process, response studies. An experiment that may be conducted in proving functionalism may have to do with pain. A functionalist would prove that pain tends to be caused by the belief that something is wrong with the body. The need to be out of this mental state produces a state of anxiety. This in turn causes wincing and moaning. Only creatures who can process a form similar to this can feel pain.

James Angell was a student of John Dewey. He used functionalism to help understand the relationship between the mind and the body in extreme survival situations.

Both of these schools of thought were explored in the very early stages of psychology as a science. These theories help to set up for other ideas and studies.   

More about this author: Trenna Sue Hiler

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