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Edward Titchener and structuralist psychology

Edward Titchener and structuralist psychology

November 8, 2022

Together with his mentor, the famous Wilhelm Wundt, Edward Titchener was the founder of structuralist psychology , a psychological current of theoretical and methodological character that was centered in the analysis of the mental processes through introspection and that arose during the first years of century XX.

Although this school of thought was defeated by the functionalism of William James, which gave way to behaviorism, and by other psychological orientations that opposed the proposals of Wundt and Titchener (such as the German Gestalt), it had a key influence on the development of scientific psychology, even if this happened mostly by reaction.


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Biography of Edward Titchener

When he began studying at university, the British Edward Bradford Titchener (1867-1927) focused on classical literature; nevertheless, he became increasingly interested in biology. In particular, he drew attention to the book "Principles of physiological psychology" by Wilhelm Wundt, who founded the first psychological laboratory and is considered the father of scientific psychology.

After translating the work of the German psychophysiologist into English, Titchener moved to Leipzig to study with his idol; It was the year 1890. Tutoring by Wundt, Titchener published his doctoral thesis , in which he analyzed the binocular or stereoscopic vision (the phenomenon by which the images captured by the two eyes are processed together).


In 1892 Titchener returned to the United Kingdom for a few months; He later moved to Ithaca, a city in the state of New York, to work as a professor of psychology and philosophy at Cornell University. There he founded his own psychology laboratory, in addition to disseminating and developing Wundt's ideas to make way for structuralist psychology.

Titchener not only devoted himself to teaching, even though this was his main profession; he also published several books focused on psychological theory and methodology , among which stands out Experimental psychology (1901-1905), and was the editor of scientific journals as important as American Journal of Psychology.

Structuralist psychology

The structuralist school played an important role in the psychology of the early twentieth century. Titchener, Wundt and the other theorists of this orientation had the objective of analyze the mind from the basic elements that make it up , and how they come together to form complex processes. For this they relied mainly on the introspective method.


There is debate as to whether the foundation of structuralist psychology should be attributed to Wundt or Titchener. While the central ideas of this psychological orientation start from Wundt , it was Titchener who systematized, extended and popularized his proposals in the United States, which at that time were becoming the world nucleus of psychology.

Structuralist psychology proposes that we can understand the structure of mental processes through the definition and categorization of the elements that make up the psyche, particularly the mental contents and the processes by which they take place.

Titchener affirmed that consciousness (or mind) is formed by three types of phenomenon: sensations, affections and images . When joining several of the same class, complex processes appear. The sensations would be the elements that make up the perceptions, while the affections would give rise to the emotions and ideas to the thoughts.

The introspective method

The structuralist psychology of Titchener was based on the use of the introspective method, by which a trained subject he exercises the role of observer and descriptor of his own psychological processes . To provoke them different types of stimuli were used, which varied according to the task to be performed and the type of mental content studied.

The introspective method had already been used by Wundt; however, Titchener applied it in a much more rigorous way. In particular, this author rejected the study of unconscious processes, which includes constructs such as "instinct". Thus, his study techniques focused on the description of the conscious psychological experience.

According to Titchener, it is possible to obtain reliable information about the nature of the mind through introspection and self-knowledge. In fact, for this author this is the only method that allows to analyze mental processes reliably , since he affirmed that psychology must necessarily be a discipline based on introspection.

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The legacy of structuralism

In a general way, it is considered that structuralist psychology disappeared with Titchener: the psychological schools that opposed the approaches of this author won the ideological battle in the scientific community. However, in the same way as Wundt, Titchener played a key role in the development of experimental and scientific psychology.

The functionalism of William James emerged as a reaction to Titchener's structuralism . This orientation placed the focus on the relevance of aspects forgotten by structuralist psychology such as empirical methods, statistical comparison or systematic experimentation, and was the fundamental antecedent of Watson's behaviorism.

At present, the type of psychology that Titchener advocated is still alive in a different form in cognitive psychology, which also focuses on the description of mental processes and phenomena in many subjective cases. In addition, the utility of the introspective method has been valued by a large number of psychologists in recent decades.

A curious fact about Titchener is the fact that it was this author who coined the Anglo-Saxon term "empathy" (empathy). The word comes from the classical Greek "empatheia", which means "passion or physical affection"; it was adapted to German ("Einfühlung") by Hermann Lotze and Robert Vischer and finally Titchener translated it into English.

Bibliographic references:

  • Hothersall, D. (2004). History of psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Titchener, E. B. (1902). Experimental psychology: A manual of laboratory practice (Vol. 1). New York: MacMillan & Co., Ltd.

Structuralism - Psychology (November 2022).


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