E Structuralism and Functionalism


Structuralism and Functionalism

During the first decades of psychology, two main schools of thought dominated the field: structuralism and functionalism. Structuralism was a system of psychology developed by Edward Bradford Titchener, an American psychologist who studied under Wilhelm Wundt. Structuralists believed that the task of psychology is to identify the basic elements of consciousness in much the same way that physicists break down the basic particles of matter. For example, Titchener identified four elements in the sensation of taste: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. The main method of investigation in structuralism was introspection. The influence of structuralism in psychology faded after Titchener’s death in 1927.

In contradiction to the structuralist movement, William James promoted a school of thought known as functionalism, the belief that the real task of psychology is to investigate the function, or purpose, of consciousness rather than its structure. James was highly influenced by Darwin’s evolutionary theory that all characteristics of a species must serve some adaptive purpose. Functionalism enjoyed widespread appeal in the United States. Its three main leaders were James Rowland Angell, a student of James; John Dewey, who was also one of the foremost American philosophers and educators; and Harvey A. Carr, a psychologist at the University of Chicago.

In their efforts to understand human behavioral processes, the functional psychologists developed the technique of longitudinal research, which consists of interviewing, testing, and observing one person over a long period of time. Such a system permits the psychologist to observe and record the person’s development and how he or she reacts to different circumstances. See Functionalism.


Freud and Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud

In the late 19th century Viennese neurologist Sigmund Freud developed a theory of personality and a system of psychotherapy known as psychoanalysis. According to this theory, people are strongly influenced by unconscious forces, including innate sexual and aggressive drives. In this 1938 British Broadcasting Corporation interview, Freud recounts the early resistance to his ideas and later acceptance of his work. Freud’s speech is slurred because he was suffering from cancer of the jaw. He died the following year.

Alongside Wundt and James, a third prominent leader of the new psychology was Sigmund Freud, a Viennese neurologist of the late 19th and early 20th century. Through his clinical practice, Freud developed a very different approach to psychology. After graduating from medical school, Freud treated patients who appeared to suffer from certain ailments but had nothing physically wrong with them. These patients were not consciously faking their symptoms, and often the symptoms would disappear through hypnosis, or even just by talking. On the basis of these observations, Freud formulated a theory of personality and a form of psychotherapy known as psychoanalysis. It became one of the most influential schools of Western thought of the 20th century.

Pioneers of Psychoanalysis

In 1909 pioneers of the growing psychoanalytic movement assembled at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, to hear lectures by Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. The group included, top row, left to right, A. A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sandor Ferenczi, and bottom row, Freud, Clark University President C. Stanley Hall, and Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung. Freud’s visit, the only one he made to the United States, broadened the influence and popularity of psychoanalysis.

Freud introduced his new theory in The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), the first of 24 books he would write. The theory is summarized in Freud’s last book, An Outline of Psychoanalysis, published in 1940, after his death. In contrast to Wundt and James, for whom psychology was the study of conscious experience, Freud believed that people are motivated largely by unconscious forces, including strong sexual and aggressive drives. He likened the human mind to an iceberg: The small tip that floats on the water is the conscious part, and the vast region beneath the surface comprises the unconscious. Freud believed that although unconscious motives can be temporarily suppressed, they must find a suitable outlet in order for a person to maintain a healthy personality.

Karen Horney

German-American psychiatrist Karen Horney helped establish the American Institute for Psychoanalysis before becoming a professor at New York Medical College in 1942. She developed a neo-Freudian approach to psychoanalysis, and believed that humans have a basic need for love and security.

To probe the unconscious mind, Freud developed the psychotherapy technique of free association. In free association, the patient reclines and talks about thoughts, wishes, memories, and whatever else comes to mind. The analyst tries to interpret these verbalizations to determine their psychological significance. In particular, Freud encouraged patients to free associate about their dreams, which he believed were the “royal road to the unconscious.” According to Freud, dreams are disguised expressions of deep, hidden impulses. Thus, as patients recount the conscious manifest content of dreams, the psychoanalyst tries to unmask the underlying latent content—what the dreams really mean.

Rorschach Test

The Rorschach Test, or “inkblot” test, has been administered to millions of people since it was created in 1921. The ten inkblots published by the Swiss doctor Hermann Rorschach in his book Psychodiagnostik formed the basis for the test. A subject is given an inkblot and is asked to report on his or her perceptions of it; the answer is then interpreted and assessed. A popular tool in clinical psychology in the 1940s and 1950s, the test fell into disfavor due to criticisms of it as subjective and projective in nature.

From the start of psychoanalysis, Freud attracted followers, many of whom later proposed competing theories. As a group, these neo-Freudians shared the assumption that the unconscious plays an important role in a person’s thoughts and behaviors. Most parted company with Freud, however, over his emphasis on sex as a driving force. For example, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung theorized that all humans inherit a collective unconscious that contains universal symbols and memories from their ancestral past. Austrian physician Alfred Adler theorized that people are primarily motivated to overcome inherent feelings of inferiority. He wrote about the effects of birth order in the family and coined the term sibling rivalry. Karen Horney, a German-born American psychiatrist, argued that humans have a basic need for love and security, and become anxious when they feel isolated and alone.

Motivated by a desire to uncover unconscious aspects of the psyche, psychoanalytic researchers devised what are known as projective tests. A projective test asks people to respond to an ambiguous stimulus such as a word, an incomplete sentence, an inkblot, or an ambiguous picture. These tests are based on the assumption that if a stimulus is vague enough to accommodate different interpretations, then people will use it to project their unconscious needs, wishes, fears, and conflicts. The most popular of these tests are the Rorschach Inkblot Test, which consists of ten inkblots, and the Thematic Apperception Test, which consists of drawings of people in ambiguous situations.

Psychoanalysis has been criticized on various grounds and is not as popular as in the past. However, Freud’s overall influence on the field has been deep and lasting, particularly his ideas about the unconscious. Today, most psychologists agree that people can be profoundly influenced by unconscious forces, and that people often have a limited awareness of why they think, feel, and behave as they do. See Psychoanalysis; Psychotherapy: Psychodynamic Therapies.


Other Pioneers in the Study of the Mind

Forgetting Curve

In 1885 German philosopher Hermann Ebbinghaus conducted one of the first studies on memory, using himself as a subject. He memorized lists of nonsense syllables and then tested his memory of the syllables at intervals ranging from 20 minutes to 31 days. As shown in this curve, he found that he remembered less than 40 percent of the items after nine hours, but that the rate of forgetting leveled off over time.

In addition to Wundt, James, and Freud, many others scholars helped to define the science of psychology. In 1885 German philosopher Hermann Ebbinghaus conducted a series of classic experiments on memory, using nonsense syllables to establish principles of retention and forgetting. In 1896 American psychologist Lightner Witmer opened the first psychological clinic, which initially treated children with learning disorders. He later founded the first journal and training program in a new helping profession that he named clinical psychology. In 1905 French psychologist Alfred Binet devised the first major intelligence test in order to assess the academic potential of schoolchildren in Paris. The test was later translated and revised by Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman and is now known as the Stanford-Binet intelligence test. In 1908 American psychologist Margaret Floy Washburn (who later became the second female president of the American Psychological Association) wrote an influential book called The Animal Mind, in which she synthesized animal research to that time.

In 1912 German psychologist Max Wertheimer discovered that when two stationary lights flash in succession, people see the display as a single light moving back and forth. This illusion inspired the Gestalt psychology movement, which was based on the notion that people tend to perceive a well-organized whole or pattern that is different from the sum of isolated sensations. Other leaders of Gestalt psychology included Wertheimer’s close associates Wolfgang K√∂hler and Kurt Koffka. Later, German American psychologist Kurt Lewin extended Gestalt psychology to studies of motivation, personality, social psychology, and conflict resolution. German American psychologist Fritz Heider then extended this approach to the study of how people perceive themselves and others. See Gestalt Psychology.

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