Structuralism and functionalism

       Psychology goes back to Socrates or the Greek philosophy. However two of the early approaches in psychology that studied psychology from a more scientific view and used more reliable methods are structuralism and functionalism. Hence we can say that these two approaches were the first step toward modern psychology.

      I. Structuralism

 Founder of structuralism was a German scientist called Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920) and he can be considered the father of modern psychology. Wundt had that title not only because of the foundation of structuralism but rather for the foundation of the first psychological laboratory in Leipzig Germany. Despite the fact that Wundt was the first person to be referred to as a psychologist he did not start his career as a psychologist but rather a physiologist. He decided that he should look into the nature or structure of consciousness and classify the elements of consciousness using a scientific manner, because like many scientists back then Wundt was trying to introduce psychology as a scientific discipline.

       Now the question is how is he going to study that? Actually Wundt used a method called introspection “looking inside yourself”. Obviously there was a problem with this method because things can be different from one person to another. However this did not stop him from discovering an interesting concept which is “reaction time” because he noticed that the perception of a certain experience happens faster than the trial to report that perception.

      Although structuralism marked an important phase in the history of psychology it did not last for a long time like other psychological approaches and this is due to the subjectivity of the method used and the lack of techniques we have today.


       Functionalism was established by an American psychologist called William James who is also considered the father of American psychology. James established his psychological laboratory at Harvard in 1857. While Wundt tried to study to structure of consciousness James studied the function of consciousness and actually he wrote an influential book called “principles of psychology” that is used until this day and according to James the thinking is first and last and always for the sake of our doing. Another thing that is important in functionalism is there influence by the theory of Darwin’s theory natural selection. Hence any characteristic we have is a characteristic that proved useful during the evolution so each characteristic must serve a certain function.   

      Unlike structuralism that can be considered dead today functionalism brought ideas that were developed and used later.

See Also:

Psychoanalytic Approach


Cognitive Revolution