Structuralism - Major Schools of Thought - Definitions

Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World - Andrea Bonior 2016

Major Schools of Thought

Structuralism involves breaking down psychological experiences—thoughts, feelings, and behavior—into their most fundamental components and then exploring how these components connect to create more complex systems and phenomena. It posits that consciousness can be categorized in terms of basic elements, just as physical objects can be reduced to smaller parts. Wilhelm Wundt is often considered to have been the founder of this school of thought, and he is said to have been the first to call himself a psychologist; Edward B. Titchener was structuralism’s primary torchbearer. Wundt’s establishment of the first experimental psychology lab in 1879 led to decades of exploration that focused on defining and categorizing elements of the psychological experience. Structuralists were most interested in further understanding thoughts, emotions, and perception; they did not concern themselves as much with personality or behavior. Structuralism asserts that the main method of identifying fundamental components of psychological phenomena is introspection, an approach by which the structuralists intended to create descriptions of mental processes in the most basic terms. The term introspection, though it sounds like something you do on your day off while lying on the couch and wondering where your life is headed, refers in this case to a more scientific and structured exploration. A person, often a psychological theorist, would embark on the methodological observation of his or her own inner thought process under carefully controlled experimental conditions and would then report back as objectively as possible. Though empirically oriented, this method eventually fell out of favor as a research technique, given the question of how externally observable an individual’s thoughts can be as well as possible biases and the impossibility of quantifying any given person’s self-report. For this reason, structuralism also fell out of favor in psychology when psychology’s focus shifted to more outwardly measurable mental processes and actions.