ACT PSYCHOLOGY

Formulated by the German philosopher Franz Bren- tano (1838-1917) in 1874, this approach proposed to focus psychological investigation on psychic acts rather than psychic contents. Act psychology was an attempt to establish the growing discipline of psychology as a science. In contrast to the structuralist, Wilhelm Wundt, who sought to dissect states of consciousness into their component parts and determine the laws of their synthesis, Bren- tano focused his study on mental processes and activities. He developed a theory concerning the relationship between acts and objects. In his view only the act can be called mental— that is, the act of seeing is mental, but not the color that is seen. But since the psychic act of seeing becomes meaningless unless something is seen, he concluded that an act always refers to a content and always implies or “intends” an object. The relationship is not mutually inclusive, however, for the act is related to a physical object, but the physical object is not part of the act. Rather, it is contained in the act by “intention.” Brentano called this characteristic of psychic acts “immanent objectivity,” to indicate that the object resides or “inexists” in the act. Through this theory he believed he distinguished between psychology and physics, between mental acts, such as feeling or seeing, and physical facts such as an object of a certain color or shape. Brentano sought to understand experience by analyzing it into acts rather than by performing experiments. This approach led him to divide mental activities into three fundamental categories: (a) ideating (sensing, imagining), (b) judging (recalling, perceiving, acknowledging, rejecting), and (c) loving and hating (desiring, intending, feeling, wishing, resolving, etc.). Although the analytical approach enabled Brentano to make distinctions among psychological processes, it provided very few concrete facts. In contrast, the experimental psychologists of the time found it much easier to deal with mental contents, especially sensations, than with acts. The intensity, duration, and other qualities of sensations could be determined, even measured, but acts were impalpable and fleeting, and could only be studied in retrospect. Historically, however, act psychology has led to at least one form of experimentation. It stimulated interest in the act of perceiving, and this eventually gave rise to the Gestalt school, which studies—often experimentally—the way perceptual experience organizes itself. Brentano’s approach also had an influence on Edmund Husserl who systematized the doctrine of phenomenology, which focuses attention on immediate experience. See PHENOMENOLOGY, GESTALT PSYCHOLOGY. For a long time psychologists labeled themselves either act or content psychologists. The work of Kiilpe and the Wurzburg school, however, helped to bring about a “bipartite” approach in which act and content were recognized as different but essential facets of mental life. Nevertheless, the emphasis on mental activity continued to exert an influence of its own, and is now regarded as a precursor of the purposive approach, which views the mind as an agent rather than a receptor. And from the purposive approach has developed the entire study of motivation and psychodynamics, which has contributed so much to both normal and abnormal psychology in the past two generations. See WUNDT, WURZBURG SCHOOL

Cite this page: N., Pam M.S., "ACT PSYCHOLOGY," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/act-psychology/ (accessed January 16, 2021).
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