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Edward Bradford Titchener – A Psychologist Who Liked to Think Differently From Others

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Born in 1867 in Chichester, England, Edward Titchener would grow up to be an influential psychologist. He ended up going to Malvern College because of a scholarship he had been awarded. In 1885 his studies moved to Oxford. He wasn’t always on the Psychology path (Cherry, 2018). His family wanted to him to join the clergy and he was studying biology. All of that changed when he started to become more interested in Psychology. Comparative Psychology to be exact. An inspiration of his was Wilhelm Wundt who is referred to as “The Father of Modern Psychology” by many (Cherry, 2018). One of the first ways that Titchener helped the psychology community was when he translated Wundt’s book from German to English. After that, in 1890, Titchener graduated from Oxford and started working with Wilhelm Wundt in Germany. He then went to school in Leipzig and graduated with a Ph. D. in Psychology in 1892 (Cherry, 2018).

He started teaching at Cornell University after earning his Ph. D. and worked as a professor of Psychology. Here is where he made famous the term structuralism. By giving things a “structure”, Titchener thought that people doing research would be able to better understand mental processes. If you define and categorize the processes of the mind, that will make it easier to study and understand (Cherry, 2018). This was his thought process anyway. Although he was very close to Wundt, his ideas were different. He didn’t believe the same way Wundt did. He wanted to come up with his own ideas and follow them (Cherry, 2018). He didn’t ditch his mentor’s ideas altogether, he used the process of introspection, but he had his own set of rules for the idea. Titchener was very straightforward with his beliefs. He didn’t care about things like instinct or the unconscious. Titchener believed in 3 conscious experiences. He called them: feelings, sensations, and images (Cherry, 2018). Titchener was a man that liked thinking differently. He wanted to have his own ideas instead of always following the ways of his mentor. He was a well learned man who had a liking for teaching and learning and helping other understand his thoughts.

Titchener was a big influence in his time and still continues to be today. If it weren’t for Titchener, Wundt’s works wouldn’t have been translated to English for who knows how long and that could have impeded some progress for psychologists everywhere in the grand scheme of things. Titchener believed that psychology was a pure science. He no doubt got this idea from his mentor Wundt and there were very few others who thought this way at the time (Thomas, 2014). Titchener was getting to be persuaded by the positivist thoughts and this made him want to study more thought process and perform informative experiments. He ultimately wanted to learn more about the human thought process and he wanted to expand on his ideas by performing experiments. To achieve what he wanted, he would have to go beyond the boundaries that Wundt set, and this is what starts to set him apart from his mentor. Wundt believed that introspection was not the way to go about studying the thought process, but Titchener thought that if you had smart enough minds setting up the experiments, performing them, and analyzing the results that you would be able to achieve something using introspection (Thomas, 2014).

What Titchener tried to do was to bring his mentor’s ideas to America but put his own ideas in with it. He took Wundt’s structuralism and he used that idea to better describe the mental processes. Titchener wanted more to describe to people how the mental process works instead of explaining it in ways far too complex for most people to even understand (Edward B. Titchener, 2008). What’s the point in researching and do experiment if nobody understands the results or the motive for doing the experiment or research in the first place? As I said, Titchener wanted to make things easier to understand and more structured. He started breaking down the mental processes like they were all single ingredients to some big mental process stew (Edward B. Titchener, 2008). He believed that sensations and thoughts were two separate things and clearly, they are but he wanted to go as simple as that. Most people know how to define sensations and thoughts. This is where the idea of structuralism comes along (Edward B. Titchener, 2008).

Structuralism is as straightforward as it sounds. The key word is “structure”. Titchener wanted to make his science like that of a more structured science like a chemist would be involved in (Edward Titchener And Structuralism Psychology Essay, 2016). Titchener believed that the things such as thoughts, emotions, and behaviors could be structured in a way that people could understand them. He believed these things could be categorized and better structured. Titchener believed that it was more important to learn how each individual part of the thought process works instead of looking at a big picture and trying to piece everything together in a way that would be even more confusing to the unlearned (Edward Titchener And Structuralism Psychology Essay, 2016). Edward B. Titchener had a good view on science.

He believed that “all science begins with experience, and that without this, there could be no cognition or knowledge” (Edward Titchener And Structuralism Psychology Essay, 2016). This pretty much means that unless you have an experience with something, you would never have the thought or the knowledge to scientifically delve into the problem that may have occurred. For example, if nobody ever noticed the change in the atmosphere, climate change never would have been detected, therefore we would never have had the knowledge to work toward solving the problem at hand. He also believed what I think is a pretty good point. He believed that the reason psychology wasn’t classified as a hard science is because it’s all based on perception and the human judgment (Edward Titchener And Structuralism Psychology Essay, 2016). Other sciences such as chemistry, botany, biology, etc., are all examples of sciences that occur without the involvement of human beings. For instance, it wasn’t because of humans that minerals from the ground or caves or anywhere else came to be about. Those things existed whether we studied them or not. Who is to say that depression didn’t exist until someone started having what would be known later as symptoms of it?

Titchener used introspection to do his research. This means that he used his own happenings to understand better as to how certain mental processes worked (Wan, 2012). Titchener also talked about empathy. A fun fact here is that it is believed that Titchener is the one who first used the term empathy in psychology like it was used in his studies and his papers and writings. Titchener is known for talking about his imagination and his use of imagery. I believe that this is why imagery and his style of structuralism come into play in his studies and experiments. He was using his own experiences to believe that imagery was very important to the mental process. Titchener was using introspection when he would talk about imagery and his personal experiences with the imagination (Crossing Dialogues Assciation, 2014). He goes on to explain that he believes his reading skills and habits are one reason he talks to himself. He notes that he has to listen to music when he is doing tasks because he says he has “vivid and persistent auditory imagery” (Crossing Dialogues Assciation, 2014).

When Titchener would hear stories about things that people had done that, he would have certain mental images when thinking about these actions that had occurred. He would see certain figures that would correspond to the type of actions that happened (Crossing Dialogues Assciation, 2014). For example, it’s like thinking of a dark, looming figure standing over you when you’re scared or thinking of the devil whenever you hear of the latest mass shooting or serial killer. Titchener was using introspection here. By basing his own experiences on imagery and his vivid imagination, he helped to explain why these things happen (Crossing Dialogues Assciation, 2014). This plays a role in his belief that science cannot happen first without experience. His thoughts on imagery and his talking about his vivid imagination and how he reacts to certain stimuli further prove that introspection can work for the study of the mental processes of an individual. It also helps to better understand and predict why other people might be having these same experiences.

Some people try to say that because Titchener used a very cut and dry method of doing things that all of psychology was just cut and dry. Some believe that psychology is limited in what it can study and discover because everything is based on human perception. You can’t just go walk outside and find a depression or an anxiety. Psychology is something that takes a human experience and not all humans experience issues or abnormalities the same way. Someone may deal with sadness very well, but a lot of people don’t deal with it very well and some even go to the extreme and become depressed. These are the reasons that many people believe that psychology is a soft science and Titchener focusing on just introspection to perform many experiments didn’t help the argument that psychology is a hard science like biology or chemistry as stated above. Introspection also has its pros and cons. On the pro side, introspection always you to look inside yourself and figure out how your own mind and body work. Who better to test out your mental processes and how they work than yourself? On the con side of things, if you are just using introspection this leaves some people or all animals out of the equation when it comes to the study of mental processes (Woody & Viney, 2017).

Using an example from the book to support this, how are infants supposed to explain to a researcher how they think when they can’t even form a sentence or words yet? Or how is an animal supposed to communicate how they are thinking when they don’t even have a vocabulary nor will they ever? As you can see now, introspection has its ups and downs as with any style of experimenting. Titchener didn’t want introspection to be thought of that way (Woody & Viney, 2017). He didn’t want people thinking that the way he was doing things was just all plain and simple and that there would be many flaws in his experiments. Titchener was a very smart man who knew how to get people to see his side of things and to understand what he was trying to show. In all of time, psychologists, including Titchener, have wanted to know more about attention. Titchener specifically talked about “passive” and “active” attention (Woody & Viney, 2017).

Respectively, active attention is when we are forced to give attention to something because it is so prominent and powerful that we can’t fight it off no matter how hard we may try to. An example of this might be a smell or a taste or even a severe pain. Active attention is something that you have no choice but to give attention to. Passive attention is pretty self-explanatory after you have read the definition for active. Basically, something that attracts your passive attention is something that can easily be stored away to think about later (Woody & Viney, 2017). The book uses the example of having a problem in geometry. Interesting enough, when babies are developing, they only have one of these attentions (Woody & Viney, 2017). They only can have active attention because they do not yet have the capability of storing things in their brain to worry about later. Everything that an infant sees gets instant attention and they can’t help it. Titchener and his team did develop a third stage of attention, but it just plays on active attention. Titchener and his team also tried experimenting with attention. They took a look at duration, effort, etc. of attention. Sadly, topics such as these have been largely thrown to the past because of other methods like behaviorism (Woody & Viney, 2017).

Titchener was also very prominent in the study of association. He was an avid supporter of proponents of association such as Aristotle, Hobbes, and Bain. He saw the importance of association and turned into a huge supporter of the idea. As you could probably already tell, when someone is really into a subject, they usually let that love for the subject bleed over into their field and that’s exactly what Titchener did. Titchener combined his use of introspection with his love for the idea of association (Woody & Viney, 2017).

In conclusion, Edward Bradford Titchener, or also known as E.B. Titchener, was a very unique man. He started out in life poor and probably was thought of as never going to make it anywhere in life. He eventually made it to college on scholarships and ended up going to some prestigious schools. He even got to study under Wilhelm Wundt who was also a very influential psychologist in his time. By studying under Wundt, he got the opportunity to be exposed to new ideas and he took those ideas and ran with them.

Titchener was even credited as the father of structuralism and he was a very influential man. Titchener was a professor of his own at one point in his life and he got high praise from his students. He used introspection to study mental processes, but he put his own spin on things. He gave people new perceptions of introspection. Most people thought that introspection was a narrow idea when it came to studying things and drawing new information. Titchener showed them and Wundt that introspection could be used to study mental processes and that it could be used effectively. He trained his helpers to know how to conduct experiments the right way in order to get the right results. Titchener’s idea of structuralism was to make things easier to understand and to look at things in a new and different way. He wanted to look at mental processes the way that a chemist would look at molecules and atoms. He successfully did this and broke down the processes. He didn’t talk about how everything fit together. Instead he wanted to talk about each individual process and how it worked by itself. Titchener supported the older psychologists like Aristotle, Hobbes, Bain, etc. He liked the idea that they supported the idea of association. Titchener himself was an avid supporter of association and they had an influence on his ideas about association. He also did some research on his own on attention. He opened up some new ideas about attention like active and passive attention.


  1. Cherry, K. (2018, November 8). Edward B. Titchener Biography. Retrieved from very well mind: https://www.verywellmind.com/edward-b-titchener-biography-2795526
  2. Crossing Dialogues Assciation. (2014). Introspection and Empathy. New York, New York, United States.
  3. Edward B. Titchener. (2008, August 29). Retrieved from New World Encyclopedia: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Edward_B._Titchener
  4. Edward Titchener And Structuralism Psychology Essay. (2016, December 5). Retrieved from UK essays: https://www.ukessays.com/essays/psychology/edward-titchener-and-structuralism-psychology-essay.php
  5. Thomas, N. J. (2014). Edward B. Titchener: The Complete Iconophile. Retrieved from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mental-imagery/edward-titchener.html
  6. Wan, C. (2012, September 6). Edward Titchener.
  7. Woody, W. D., & Viney, W. (2017). A History of Psychology: The Emergence of Science and Applications. New York: Routledge.
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