30-Second Psychology: The 50 Most Thought-provoking Psychology Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute - Christian Jarrett 2011
Old School, New School
Are you sitting comfortably? Now tell me, what are the contents of your conscious mind right now? This is a version of introspection — the research tool favoured by psychology’s founding fathers in the late nineteenth century. As William James noted in his 1890 book The Principles of Psychology, ’The word introspection needs hardly to be defined — it means, of course, looking into our own minds and reporting what we there discover.’ Practitioners in Wilhelm Wundt’s laboratory at the University of Leipzig — widely accepted as the world’s first experimental psychology lab — were expected to undergo lengthy training in the method. One aim was to break conscious experience down into its constituent parts. Although the technique sounds straightforward enough, methodological arguments broke out among its early pioneers. Edward Titchener, a British psychologist and former student of Wundt’s, proposed a particularly strict system designed to avoid what he called ’stimulus error’, in which, faced with a stimulus such as a table, the ’introspectionist’ reports the mere presence of the table, rather than the raw sensory experiences provoked by its colour, size, position and constitution.
The favoured research method of psychology’s founding fathers was introspection — reporting the contents of one’s own consciousness.
Introspection as a formal technique fell out of favour with the rise of behaviourism, and with the growing recognition that many of our mental processes are beyond conscious access. However, any time a research participant reports how they are feeling or describes their sensory perceptions — as often happens as part of many modern psychology experiments — they are in effect introspecting.
No one has direct access to your mind like you do. That’s why introspection remains a valid technique even after the invention of brain scanners.