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Psychologist Theorist: Wilhelm Wundt

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Wilhelm Wundt opened the Institute for Experimental Psychology at the University of Leipzig in Germany in 1879. This was the first laboratory dedicated to psychology, and its opening is usually thought of as the beginning of modern psychology

Indeed, Wundt is often regarded as the father of psychology. Wundt was important because he separated psychology from philosophy by analyzing the workings of the mind in a more structured way, with the emphasis being on objective measurement and control.

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Wilhelm Wundt was born on August 16, 1832, in Baden, Germany. As a child, Wilhelm was tutored, which taught him to process information and develop a love for studying at an early age. Later he furthered his education at Tubingen University and also at the University of Heidelburg. After extensive education at these universities, Wundt became one of the first German psychologists and held a few different professions throughout his career life. In 1874 he started his life as a professor of Inductive Philosophy at Zurich University. Just a year later, he transferred his position as a philosophy professor to Leipzig University where he taught until 1917. It was during this duration of time and experience that Wundt was named the "Father of Psychology" and also the "Founder of Modern Psychology." Wilhelm was said to be "the first scientist to devote himself almost exclusively to psychological research." He was so devoted that he opened the world's first experimental laboratory of psychology in 1879. Also, among Wilhelm's major contributions came written knowledge. His most popular book, Physiological Psychology, was published in 1880. This was a two-volume work that stressed the relations between psychology and physiology. The book displayed how natural science could be incorporated into psychology. The book included an important theory that Wilhelm found and named the Tridimensional Theory of feeling

This new theory described some such feelings to be pleasant or unpleasant, tense or relaxed, and excited or depressed. He reasoned that a given feeling could also be combined with another or a combination of many other feelings. Another piece of writing that Wundt created was Vokerpsychologie (Folk Psychology). Vokerpsychologie made obvious his attempt to understand human's higher thought processes through such things as language, art, mythology, religion, custom, and law.

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Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt was born on August 16, 1832, in the German town of Neckarau, outside of Mannheim, the son of a Lutheran minister (Titchener 1921b: 161). The family moved when Wilhelm was six to the town of Heidenheim, in central Baden. By all accounts, he was a precocious, peculiar boy, schooled mainly by his father’s assistant, the vicar, Friedrich Müller; young Wilhelm was so attached to Müller that he moved in with him when the latter got a post in a neighboring village (Boring 1950: 316). Wundt studied at the Gymnasien at Bruchsal and Heidelberg and entered the University of Tübingen at 19, in 1851 (Boring 1950: 317). After one year he transferred to the University of Heidelberg, where he majored in medicine. By his third year, his intense work ethic yielded his first publication (Boring 1950: 318). Nevertheless, doctoring was not Wundt’s vocation and he turned instead to physiology, which he studied for a semester under Johannes Müller (the “father of experimental physiology”) at Berlin (Boring 1950: 318)

In 1856, at the age of 24, Wundt took his doctorate in medicine at Heidelberg, and habilitated as a Dozent in physiology. Two years later, the physicist, physiologist, and psychologist, Hermann von Helmholtz received the call to Heidelberg as a professor of physiology, a decisive moment for Wundt’s career, with Wundt working as Helmholtz’s assistant from 1858 until 1865.

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To conclude, all the approaches I have identified have had some influence on the psychology we teach and practise today. In my opinion I feel that the turning point for psychological research was the psychodynamic approach and Behaviourism

Freud’s theories on the unconscious mind today are still so relevant and I feel that because of his ideas we are so knowledgeable about mental health issues and childhood development. Without Freud’s theories on the unconscious mind or Pavlov’s ideas of conditioning we would not be so advanced in our understanding of the amazing human mind.

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Wundt’s students, 1921, “In memory of Wilhelm Wundt by his American students”, Psychological Review, 28(3): 153–88. Reprinted in Boring 1950: 344. Some very vivid and anecdotal reminiscences of Wundt by seventeen of his American students.

Boring, E.G., 1950 [1942], A History of Experimental Psychology, 2nd ed., New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Blumenthal, A.L., 1975, “A Reappraisal of Wilhelm Wundt”, American Psychologist, 30(11): 1081–8. doi:10.1037/0003–066X.30.11.108

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