Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt (August 16, 1832 – August 31, 1920) was a German physiologist and psychologist. Generally acknowledged as a founder of experimental psychology and cognitive psychology, he is less commonly recognized as a founding figure of social psychology; the later years of Wundt's life were spent working on Völkerpsychologie, which he understood as a study into the social basis of higher mental functioning.
Wundt combined philosophical introspection with techniques and laboratory apparatuses brought over from his physiological studies with Hermann von Helmholtz, as well as many of his own design. This experimental introspection was in contrast to what had been called psychology until then, a branch of philosophy where people introspected themselves. Wundt argued that
"we learn little about our minds from casual, haphazard self-observation...It is essential that observations be made by trained observers under carefully specified conditions for the purpose of answering a well-defined question." (Principles of Physiological Psychology, translated by Edward Titchener, 1904)
The methods Wundt used are still used in modern psychophysical work, where reactions to systematic presentations of well-defined external stimuli are measured in some way — reaction time, reactions, comparison with graded colors or sounds, and so forth. His chief method of investigation was called "introspection" in the terminology of the time, although "observation" may be a better translation.
Wundt subscribed to a "psychophysical parallelism" (which entirely excludes the possibility of a mind-body/cause-effect relationship), which was supposed to stand above both materialism and idealism. His epistemology was an eclectic mixture of the ideas of Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Leibniz, Immanuel Kant, and Georg Hegel.
Wundt was born at Neckarau, Baden, as an only child to parents Maximilian Wundt (a Lutheran minister), and his wife Marie Frederike. He studied from 1851 to 1856 at the University of Tübingen, University of Heidelberg, and the University of Berlin. After graduating in medicine from the in Heidelberg (1856), Wundt studied briefly with Johannes Peter Müller, before joining the University's staff, becoming an assistant to the physicist and physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz in 1858. There he wrote Contributions to the Theory of Sense Perception (1858-62). He married Sophie Mau while at Heidelberg.
It was during this period that Wundt offered the first course ever taught in scientific psychology, and constantly stressing the use of experimental methods drawn from the natural sciences. His lectures on psychology were published as Lectures on the Mind of Humans and Animals (1863). He was promoted to Assistant Professor of Physiology in 1864.
Bypassed in 1871 for the appointment to succeed Helmholtz, Wundt applied himself to writing a work that came to be one of the most important in the history of psychology, Principles of Physiological Psychology (1874). The Principles advanced a system of psychology that sought to investigate the immediate experiences of consciousness, including sensations, feelings, volitions, apperception, and ideas.
In 1879 he took up a position at the University of Leipzig, and set up the first psychological laboratory in the world. Two years later he founded a journal of psychology, Philosophical Studies. He remained in Leipzig until his death, supervising 186 doctoral dissertations in various disciplines.
Wundt died in 1920, having completed his 10-volume masterwork, Völkerpsychologie ("Social Psychology"). In 1874, he published Grundzüge der physiologischen Psychologie ("Principles of Physiological Psychology"), which is the standard textbook of the science. His works include: Die Lehre von der Muskelbewegung (1858); Beiträge zur Theorie der Sinneswahrnehmung (1862); Vorlesungen über die Menschen- und Tierseele (1863, "Lectures on Human and Animal Psychology"); Lehrbuch der Physiologie des Menschen (1865); Die physikalischen Aœiome und ihre Beziehung zum Kausalprincip (1866); Handbuch der medizinischen Physik (1867); Untersuchungen zur Mechanik der Nerven und Nervencentren (1871-76); Der Spiritismus, eine sogenannte wissenschaftliche Frage (1879); Logik, eine Untersuchung der Principien der Erkenntnis und der Methode wissenschaftlicher Forschung (1880-83); Essays (1885); Ethik, eine Untersuchung der Thatsachen und Gesetze des sittlichen Lebens (1886; "Ethics: An Investigation of the Facts and Laws of the Moral Life"); Zur Moral der literarischen Kritik (1887); System der Philosophie (1889); Hypnotismus und Suggestion (1892); Grundriss der Psychologie (1896; "Outlines of Psychology"); Völkerpsychologie, eine Untersuchung der Entwicklungsgesetze von Sprache, Mythus, und Sitte (1900); Einleitung in die Philosophie (1901); Sprachgeschichte und Sprachpsychologie (1901); Festrede zur fünfhundert jährigen Jubelfeier der Universität Leipzig (1909); Principien der mechanischen Naturlehre (1910); Kleine Schriften (1910); Probleme der Völkerpsychologie (1911); Einführung in die Psychologie (1911; "Introduction to Psychology"); Elemente der Völkerpsychologie (1912); Reden und Aufsätze (1913); Anfänge der Phylosophie und die Philosophie der primitiven Völker (1913); Sinnliche und übersinnliche Welt (1914); Deutschland im Lichte des neutralen und des feindlichen Auslandes (1915); and Die Nationen und ihre Philosophie (1915).
An optical illusion described by him is called Wundt illusion.
Several of Wundt's students became eminent psychologists in their own right. They include: the German Oswald Külpe (a professor at the University of Würzburg); the Americans James McKeen Cattell (the first professor of psychology in the United States), G. Stanley Hall (the father of the child psychology movement and adolescent developmental theorist, head of Clark University), Charles Hubbard Judd (Director of the School of Education at the University of Chicago), Hugo Münsterberg (who contributed to the development of industrial psychology and taugh at Harvard University), Edward Bradford Titchener (who founded the first psychology laboratory in the United States at Cornell University), Lightner Witmer (founder of the first psychological clinic in his country); the English Charles Spearman (who developed the two-factor theory of intelligence and several important statistical analyses - see Factor analysis, Spearman's rank correlation coefficient); the Romanian Constantin Rădulescu-Motru (Personalist philosopher and head of the Philosophy department at the University of Bucharest).
Wundt's laboratory students called their approach Ganzheit Psychology ("holistic psychology") following Wundt's death.
Much of Wundt's work was derided mid-century in the United States because of a lack of adequate translations, misrepresentations by certain students, and behaviorism's polemic with the structuralist program.
Titchener, a two-year resident of Wundt's lab and one of Wundt's most vocal advocates in the United States, is responsible for several English translations and mistranslations of Wundt's works that supported his own views and approach, which he termed "structuralism" and claimed was wholly consistent with Wundt's position.
Titchener's focus on internal structures of mind was rejected by behaviorists following the ideas of B. F. Skinner; the latter dominated psychological studies in the mid-1900s. Part of this rejection included Wundt, whose work fell into eclipse during this period. In later decades, his actual positions and techniques have seen reconsideration and reassessment by major psychologists.