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Germany has had a leading role in the development of psychology as a scientific discipline.
The Emergence of German Experimental Psychology[edit | edit source]
Until the middle of the 19th century, psychology was widely regarded as a branch of philosophy. For instance, Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) declared in his Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (1786) that a scientific psychology "properly speaking" is impossible. However, Kant proposed what looks to modern eyes very much like an empirical psychology in his Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (1798).
Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776–1841) took issue with Kant's conclusion and attempted to develop a mathematical basis for a scientific psychology. Although he was unable to empirically realize the terms of his psychological theory, his efforts did lead scientists such as Ernst Heinrich Weber (1795–1878) and Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801–1887) to attempt to measure the mathematical relationships between the physical magnitudes of external stimuli and the psychological intensities of the resulting sensations. Fechner (1860) is the originator of the term psychophysics.
Meanwhile, individual differences in reaction time had become a critical issue in the field of astronomy, under the name of the "personal equation". Early researches by Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel (1784–1846) in Königsberg and Adolf Hirsch led to the development of a highly precise chronoscope by Mathias Hipp that, in turn, was based on a design by Charles Wheatstone for a device that measured the speed of artillery shells (Edgell & Symes, 1906). Other timing instruments were borrowed from physiology (e.g., the kymograph) and adapted for use by the Utrecht ophthalmologist Franciscus Donders (1818–1899) and his student Johan Jacob de Jaager in measuring the duration of simple mental decisions.
The 19th century was also the period in which physiology, including neurophysiology, professionalized and saw some of its most significant discoveries. Among its leaders were Charles Bell (1774–1843) and François Magendie (1783–1855) who independently discovered the distinction between sensory and motor nerves in the spinal column, Johannes Müller (1801–1855) who proposed the doctrine of specific nerve energies, Emil du Bois-Reymond (1818–1896) who studied the electrical basis of muscle contraction, Pierre Paul Broca (1824–1880) and Carl Wernicke (1848–1905) who identified areas of the brain responsible for different aspects of language, as well as Gustav Fritsch (1837–1927), Eduard Hitzig (1839–1907), and David Ferrier (1843–1924) who localized sensory and motor areas of the brain. One of the principal founders of experimental physiology, Hermann von Helmholtz (1821–1894), conducted studies of a wide range of topics that would later be of interest to psychologists – the speed of neural transmission, the natures of sound and color, and of our perceptions of them, etc. In the 1860s, while he held a position in Heidelberg, Helmholtz engaged as an assistant a young M.D. named Wilhelm Wundt. Wundt employed the equipment of the physiology laboratory – chronoscope, kymograph, and various peripheral devices – to address more complicated psychological questions than had until then been considered experimentally. In particular he was interested in the nature of apperception – the point at which a perception occupies the central focus of conscious awareness.
In 1874 Wundt took up a professorship in Zürich, where he published his landmark textbook, Grundzüge der physiologischen Psychologie (Principles of Physiological Psychology, 1874). Moving to a more prestigious professorship in Leipzig in 1875, Wundt founded a laboratory specifically dedicated to original research in experimental psychology in 1879, the first laboratory of its kind in the world. In 1883, he launched a journal in which to publish the results of his, and his students', research, Philosophische Studien (Philosophical Studies) (For more on Wundt, see, e.g., Bringmann & Tweney, 1980; Rieber & Robinson, 2001). Wundt attracted a large number of students not only from Germany, but also from abroad. Among his most influential American students were G. Stanley Hall (who had already obtained a PhD from Harvard under the supervision of William James), James McKeen Cattell (who was Wundt's first assistant), and Frank Angell. The most influential British student was Edward Bradford Titchener (who later became professor at Cornell).
Experimental psychology laboratories were soon also established at Berlin by Carl Stumpf (1848–1936) and at Göttingen by Georg Elias Müller (1850–1934). Another major German experimental psychologist of the era, though he did not direct his own research institute, was Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850–1909).
Experimentation was not the only approach to psychology in the German-speaking world at this time. Starting in the 1890s, employing the case study technique, the Viennese physician Sigmund Freud developed and applied the methods of hypnosis, free association, and dream interpretation to reveal putatively unconscious beliefs and desires that he argued were the underlying causes of his patients' "hysteria." He dubbed this approach psychoanalysis. Freudian psychoanalysis is particularly notable for the emphasis it places on the course of an individual's sexual development in pathogenesis. Psychoanalytic concepts have had a strong and lasting influence on Western culture, particularly on the arts. Although its scientific contribution is still a matter of debate, both Freudian and Jungian psychology revealed the existence of compartmentalized thinking, in which some behavior and thoughts are hidden from consciousness – yet operative as part of the complete personality. Hidden agendas, a bad conscience, or a sense of guilt, are examples of the existence of mental processes in which the individual is not conscious, through choice or lack of understanding, of some aspects of their personality and subsequent behavior.
Psychoanalysis examines mental processes which affect the ego. An understanding of these theoretically allows the individual greater choice and consciousness with a healing effect in neurosis and occasionally in psychosis, both of which Richard von Krafft-Ebing defined as "diseases of the personality". Carl G. Jung was an associate of Freud's who later broke with him over Freud's emphasis on sexuality. Working with concepts of the unconscious first noted during the 1800s (by John Stuart Mill, Krafft-Ebing, Pierre Janet, Théodore Flournoy and others), Jung defined four mental functions which relate to and define the ego, the conscious self. Sensation (which tell consciousness that something is there), feelings (which consist of value judgments, and motivate our reaction to what we have sensed), intellect (an analytic function that compares this event to all known events and gives it a class and category, allowing us to understand a situation within a historical process, personal or public), and intuition (a mental function with access to deep behavioral patterns, intuition can suggest unexpected solutions or predict unforeseen consequences, "as if seeing around corners" as Jung put it). Jung insisted on an empirical psychology in which theories must be based on facts and not on the psychologist's projections or expectations.
Second Generation German Psychology[edit | edit source]
Würzburg School[edit | edit source]
In 1896, one of Wundt's former Leipzig laboratory assistants, Oswald Külpe (1862–1915), founded a new laboratory in Würzburg. Külpe soon surrounded himself with a number of younger psychologists, most notably Narziß Ach (1871–1946), Karl Bühler (1879–1963), Ernst Dürr (1878–1913), Karl Marbe (1869–1953), and Henry Jackson Watt (1879–1925). Collectively, they developed a new approach to psychological experimentation that flew in the face of many of Wundt's restrictions. Wundt had drawn a distinction between the old philosophical style of self-observation (Selbstbeobachtung) in which one introspected for extended durations on higher thought processes and inner-perception (innere Wahrnehmung) in which one could be immediately aware of a momentary sensation, feeling, or image (Vorstellung). The former was declared to be impossible by Wundt, who argued that higher thought could not be studied experimentally through extended introspection, but only humanistically through Völkerpsychologie (folk psychology). Only the latter was a proper subject for experimentation.
The Würzburgers, by contrast, designed experiments in which the experimental subject was presented with a complex stimulus (e.g., a Nietzschean aphorism or a logical problem) and after processing it for a time (e.g., interpreting the aphorism or solving the problem), retrospectively reported to the experimenter all that had passed through his consciousness during the interval. In the process, the Würzburgers claimed to have discovered a number of new elements of consciousness (over and above Wundt's sensations, feelings, and images) including Bewußtseinslagen (conscious sets), Bewußtheiten (awarenesses), and Gedanken (thoughts). In the English-language literature, these are often collectively termed "imageless thoughts", and the debate between Wundt and the Würzburgers as the "imageless thought controversy."
Wundt referred to the Würzburgers' studies as "sham" experiments and criticized them vigorously. Wundt's most significant English student, Edward Bradford Titchener, then working at Cornell, intervened in the dispute, claiming to have conducted extended introspective studies in which he was able to resolve the Würzburgers imageless thoughts into sensations, feelings, and images. He thus, paradoxically, used a method of which Wundt did not approve in order to affirm Wundt's view of the situation (see Kusch, 1995; Kroker, 2003).
The imageless thought debate is often said to have been instrumental in undermining the legitimacy of all introspective methods in experimental psychology and, ultimately, in bringing about the behaviorist revolution in American psychology. It was not without its own delayed legacy, however. Herbert Simon (1981) cites the work of one Würzburg psychologist in particular, Otto Selz (1881–1943), for having inspired him to develop his famous problem-solving computer algorithms (e.g., Logic Theorist and General Problem Solver) and his "thinking out loud" method for protocol analysis. In addition, Karl Popper studied psychology under Bühler and Selz, and appears to have brought some of their influence, unattributed, to his philosophy of science (Ter Hark, 2004).
Gestalt Psychology[edit | edit source]
(This section adapted from Green, 2000, by permission of the author.)
Whereas the Würzburgers debated with Wundt mainly on matters of method, another German movement, centered in Berlin, took issue with the widespread assumption that the aim of psychology should be to break consciousness down into putative basic elements. Instead, they argued that the psychological "whole" has priority and that the "parts" are defined by the structure of the whole, rather than vice versa. Thus, the school was named Gestalt, a German term meaning approximately "form" or "configuration." It was led by Max Wertheimer (1880–1943), Wolfgang Köhler (1887–1967), and Kurt Koffka (1886–1941). Wertheimer had been a student of Austrian philosopher, Christian von Ehrenfels (1859–1932), who claimed that in addition to the sensory elements of a perceived object, there is an extra element which, though in some sense derived from the organization of the standard sensory elements, is also to be regarded as being an element in its own right. He called this extra element Gestalt-qualität or "form-quality." For instance, when one hears a melody, one hears the notes plus something in addition to them which binds them together into a tune – the Gestalt-qualität. It is the presence of this Gestalt-qualität which, according to Von Ehrenfels, allows a tune to be transposed to a new key, using completely different notes, but still retain its identity. Wertheimer took the more radical line that "what is given me by the melody does not arise ... as a secondary process from the sum of the pieces as such. Instead, what takes place in each single part already depends upon what the whole is", (1925/1938). In other words, one hears the melody first and only then may perceptually divide it up into notes. Similarly in vision, one sees the form of the circle first – it is given "im-mediately" (i.e. its apprehension is not mediated by a process of part-summation). Only after this primary apprehension might one notice that it is made up of lines or dots or stars.
Gestalt-Theorie was officially initiated in 1912 in an article by Wertheimer on the phi-phenomenon; a perceptual illusion in which two stationary but alternately flashing lights appear to be a single light moving from one location to another. Contrary to popular opinion, his primary target was not behaviorism, as it was not yet a force in psychology. The aim of his criticism was, rather, the atomistic psychologies of Hermann von Helmholtz (1821–1894), Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920), and other European psychologists of the time.
The two men who served as Wertheimer's subjects in the phi experiment were Köhler and Koffka. Köhler was an expert in physical acoustics, having studied under physicist Max Planck (1858–1947), but had taken his degree in psychology under Carl Stumpf (1848–1936). Koffka was also a student of Stumpf's, having studied movement phenomena and psychological aspects of rhythm. In 1917 Köhler (1917/1925) published the results of four years of research on learning in chimpanzees. Köhler showed, contrary to the claims of most other learning theorists, that animals can learn by "sudden insight" into the "structure" of a problem, over and above the associative and incremental manner of learning that Ivan Pavlov (1849–1936) and Edward Lee Thorndike (1874–1949) had demonstrated with dogs and cats, respectively.
The terms "structure" and "organization" were focal for the Gestalt psychologists. Stimuli were said to have a certain structure, to be organized in a certain way, and that it is to this structural organization, rather than to individual sensory elements, that the organism responds. When an animal is conditioned, it does not simply respond to the absolute properties of a stimulus, but to its properties relative to its surroundings. To use a favorite example of Köhler's, if conditioned to respond in a certain way to the lighter of two gray cards, the animal generalizes the relation between the two stimuli rather than the absolute properties of the conditioned stimulus: it will respond to the lighter of two cards in subsequent trials even if the darker card in the test trial is of the same intensity as the lighter one in the original training trials.
In 1921 Koffka published a Gestalt-oriented text on developmental psychology, Growth of the Mind. With the help of American psychologist Robert Ogden, Koffka introduced the Gestalt point of view to an American audience in 1922 by way of a paper in Psychological Bulletin. It contains criticisms of then-current explanations of a number of problems of perception, and the alternatives offered by the Gestalt school. Koffka moved to the United States in 1924, eventually settling at Smith College in 1927. In 1935 Koffka published his Principles of Gestalt Psychology. This textbook laid out the Gestalt vision of the scientific enterprise as a whole. Science, he said, is not the simple accumulation of facts. What makes research scientific is the incorporation of facts into a theoretical structure. The goal of the Gestaltists was to integrate the facts of inanimate nature, life, and mind into a single scientific structure. This meant that science would have swallow not only what Koffka called the quantitative facts of physical science but the facts of two other "scientific categories": questions of order and questions of Sinn, a German word which has been variously translated as significance, value, and meaning. Without incorporating the meaning of experience and behavior, Koffka believed that science would doom itself to trivialities in its investigation of human beings.
Having survived the onslaught of the Nazis up to the mid-1930s (see Henle, 1978), all the core members of the Gestalt movement were forced out of Germany to the United States by 1935 (Henle, 1984). Köhler published another book, Dynamics in Psychology, in 1940 but thereafter the Gestalt movement suffered a series of setbacks. Koffka died in 1941 and Wertheimer in 1943. Wertheimer's long-awaited book on mathematical problem-solving, Productive Thinking was published posthumously in 1945 but Köhler was now left to guide the movement without his two long-time colleagues. (For more on the history of Gestalt psychology, see Ash, 1995.)
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