Theories of Early Psychology: Structuralism, Functionalism and Behaviorism

Compare and contrast three of the ten different perspectives (specific theories) of early psychology described in your text or on the internet. These theories include: Structuralism, Functionalism, Behaviorism, Gestalt, Psychodynamic, Humanistic, Evolutionary, Physiological, Cognitive, and Culture and Diversity. Solution Preview
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STRUCTURALISM (19th century)

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At the turn of 19th century the founding father of experimental psychology Wilhelm Wundt tried to experimentally confirm his hypothesis that conscious mental life can be broken down into fundamental elements which then form more complex mental structures. In this part of the 19th century, researchers were making great advances in chemistry and physics by analysing complex compounds (molecules) in terms of their elements (atoms). These successes encouraged psychologists to look for the mental elements of which more complex experiences were composed. If the chemist made headway by analysing water into oxygen and hydrogen, perhaps the psychologist could make headway by considering a perception, e.g., the taste of lemonade, to be a “molecule” of conscious experience which can be analysed into elements of conscious experience: e.g., sweet, sour, cold, warm, bitter, and whatever else could be identified by introspection. A major believer was the psychologist Edward B. Titchener who was trained by Wundt and worked at Cornell University.

Since the goal was to specify mental structures, Titchener coined the phrase structuralism to describe this branch of psychology (Atkinson, R.L. 1990, Introduction to Psychology. (10th Ed) New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, p767). Wundt’s structuralism was quickly abandoned because of its subjectivity: its objects, conscious experiences, are not easily subjected to controlled experimentation in the same way as behaviour is. Today, however, the brain-scanning technology can identify, for example, specialized brain cells that respond exclusively to basic lines and shapes; the outputs of these cells are combined in other brain areas whose activity correlates with more complex visual experience. This line of research, called cognitive psychology, could be regarded as a new kind of structuralism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Structuralism

In other words, some of the points of comparison to consider are as follows:

– Structuralism is subjective abd focused on the “inner” determinants of human behavior. E.g. a general approach in various academic disciplines that explores the inter-relationships between fundamental elements of some kind, upon which some higher mental, linguistic, social, cultural etc “structures” are built, through which then meaning is produced within a particular person, system, culture.
– Time: Structuralism appeared in academic psychology for the first time in the 19th century and then reappeared in the second half of the 20th century, when it grew to become one of the most popular approaches in the academic fields that are concerned with analyzing language, culture, and society.
– Proponents: The work of Ferdinand de Saussure is generally considered to be a starting point of the 20th century structuralism. As with any cultural movement, the influences and developments are complex.
– Major focus: subjective (introspection): self-analysis of inner thoughts E.g. the founding father of experimental psychology Wilhelm Wundt tried to experimentally confirm his hypothesis that conscious mental life can be broken down into fundamental elements which then form more complex mental structures. (in contrast to behaviorism’s focus on oberservable behavior and environmental determinants of human behavior)

– Determinants of behavior: “inner” man (in contrast to the “outer” man in behaviorism and functionalism, which moved to observable measurable behaviors)
– Influenced by the Natural sciences: In this part of the 19th century, researchers were making great advances in chemistry and physics by analysing complex compounds (molecules) in terms of their elements (atoms). E.g. These successes encouraged psychologists to look for the mental elements of which more complex experiences were composed. If the chemist made headway by analysing water into oxygen and hydrogen, perhaps the psychologist could make headway by considering a perception, e.g., the taste of lemonade, to be a “molecule” of conscious experience which can be analysed …

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