WUNDT, WILHELM MAX, (1832— 1920)


Wundt, the founder of experimental psychology, was bom near Mannheim, the son of a Lutheran minister. After years of tutoring by his father’s assistant, he attended the Gymnasium at Heidelberg and entered the University in 1852. Although he was a medical student, his major interest was physiology, and therefore after receiving his degree, he went to Berlin to study this field under the great Johannes Muller. He then returned to Heidelberg to serve as Privat Dozent in physiology and assistant to Hermann Helmholtz.Between 1857 and 1864 Wundt published several papers and three books— one on the movements of the muscles, a second on the senses, and a third on the psyche of men and animals. The book on the senses, Beitrage zur Theorie des Sinnes-Wahrnehmung, contains an outline of his endeavors for the rest of his life, and makes a plea for the application of experimental methods to psychology. The book on the psyche introduced many topics which experimental psychology dealt with for years after, including psychophysical methods, the “personal equation” in its relation to reaction time experiments, and perceptual problems.In 1864 Wundt was appointed assistant professor of physiology at Heidelberg, and during the next ten years published a textbook on physiology and a handbook on medical physics. When Helmholtz left in 1871, Wundt appeared to be in line for his position, but was passed over. Nevertheless, he continued teaching and experimenting in physiological psychology, and in 1873- 74 published a monumental two volume work, Grundzuge der Physiologi- schen Psychologie, which Boring (1950) calls “The most important book in the history of modem psychology.” In it he not only brought together every known fact on psychology, but presented his own system. It has been described as a “Declaration of Independence” calling for the establishment of experimental psychology as a separate science.In 1875 Wundt transferred his activities to Leipzig, where he answered his own call for experimental psychology by establishing the first “official” psychological laboratory in 1879. He also founded the first journal devoted to reporting the findings of this new discipline, Philosophische Studien. Among his students in the laboratory were many who later became eminent in their fields: Kraepelin, Cattell, Kiilpe, Angell, Titch- ener, and James, to name only a few.Wundt generally determined the problems to be studied. They covered a wide range of subjects, including analysis of word associations: development and elaboration of psychophysical methods; problems of attention, judgment, and emotions; psychophysiology of the senses; and studies of reaction time. The investigations were carried out primarily through the method of introspection, and were limited to an exploration of the generalized human adult mind. No experimentation was done on children or animals, nor did he concern himself with individual differences, which he regarded as a bothersome interference with his main purpose. Some of his students, however, later focused attention on these neglected fields—for example, J. M. Cattell developed the study of individual differences. Wundt, a man of encyclopedic mentality, produced a number of works on philosophy as well as psychology. The most notable were Logik (1880), Ethik (1886), and Systeme der Philosophie (1889), the latter presenting a system of scientific metaphysics. In addition to continuing his work as director of the laboratory, he accepted the position of Rector of the University in 1889. Not long after, he added to his amazing output—which totaled 53,735 pages— by publishing Grundriss der Psychologie, in which he introduced his theory that feelings vary along the three dimensions of pleasantness-unpleasantness, excitement-quiescence, and strain-relaxation, a theory which led to a great deal of productive research.In the last twenty years of his life, from 1900 to 1920, this indefatigable investigator turned his attention to the psychological interpretation of the data of history and anthropology. His findings were published in a monumental ten-volume work, Volker Psychologie, which contributed heavily to our knowledge of the higher psychological processes, especially in the field of language, which he believed to be an accurate index of the mental make-up of any society.Although much of Wundt’s work has been superseded, and psychology has broken the rigid bounds which he put upon it, many authorities

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "WUNDT, WILHELM MAX, (1832— 1920)," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/wundt-wilhelm-max-1832-1920/ (accessed August 16, 2022).


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