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Structuralism and Functionalism

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One could say that Titchener is seen as the father of structuralism. Thought he gives great credit to Wundt, he altered Wundts theory extensively resulting in a new theory. Structuralism, in short, is the “system of psychology, which dealt with conscious experience as a dependant on experiencing persons” (Schultz, 2004, p509). This varies greatly from the functionalism approach that’s focus is on the mind and how it adapts with its environment.

Structuralism brought forth the focusing on mental attributes and linking them through the process of association. Titchener believed that psychology’s goal was to “discover the nature of the elementary conscious experiences–to analyze consciousness into its component parts and thus determine its structure.” (Schultz, 2004, p117). Much of this was done thought introspection.

Functionalism, on the other hand, began as a result of Titchener’s Structural theory and greatly influenced American education. It incorporated basic ideology from William James and Charles Darwin. It’s an eclectic viewpoint that focuses on function rather than the structure of the mental process. Harvey A. Car defined psychology as having two major components. He defined “the subject matter of psychology as mental activity–those processes such as memory, perception, feeling, imagination, judgment, and will.” (Schultz, 2004, p199) He also stated that the “function of mental activity is to acquire, fixate, retain, organize, and evaluate experiences and to use these experiences to determine one’s actions.” (Schultz, 2004, p199) He labeled these as adaptive or adjustive behaviors.

Though the two theories are on different ends of the spectrum, they both incorporate introspection, a form of self-evaluation. Titcheners form of introspection relied on observers who were trained to describe elements of their consciousness state. This was scrutinized by the psychological community. It was seen that when one introduces an observing variable, the conscious experience was altered, therefore hindering the results. William James was aware of the problem of introspection, however he accepted it in the functionalism theory believing that the outcome can be valid. This was insured by having the introspective results “verified by appropriate checks and by comparing the findings obtained from several observers.” (Schultz, 2004, p186)

These theories are relevant to psychology today is a multitude of ways. Though structuralism isn’t necessarily a working theory it introduced introspection, which is still used by many. It served as a springboard for other thoughts of psychology. Because of its great criticism, it enabled others to focus on new developments of psychology.

One of which was functionalism. Unlike structuralism, functionalism is still very much apart of psychology. It enveloped the study of animals, infants, children and people with mental disabilities. The functionalism approach also brought forth the use of questioners, psychological research, mental tests and other forms of describing behavior, much of which is still in use today.

This author believes that structuralism was a huge antecedent to functionalism. Without the rigid views of structuralism, there may not have been such a thirst to find other approaches. Structuralism is still seen in psychology today in the practice of introspection; however, functionalism opened many doors to other fields of psychology.


Schultz, D.P & Shultz, S.E (2004). A History of Modern Psychology (8th ed.) Belmont, Ca: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

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