contribution made by introspection
Science, in general terms is seen as a way of thinking about and observing the universe that leads to a deep understanding of its workings. This happens through empirical methods, such as observations and experiments (Stanovich 2004). Modern-day psychologists often take reference from a scientific framework described by Karl Popper. His framework and ideas have always been seen as groundbreaking in the field of psychology, and are still held in high regard in contemporary ideas of scientific thinking. Popper believed that science is “distinguished from pseudo-science…by its empirical method, which is essentially inductive, proceeding from observation or experiment” (Popper 1953). The framework argues that one of the most substantial features of a scientific theory should be whether it opens itself up to ‘falsification’. Falsification is the logical possibility that an assertion can be shown to be false by an observation or a physical experiment. This means that it is more appropriate to look for evidence to falsify a theory, than to confirm it. Falsification allows for science to keep progressing with the context of the times. If a theory lends itself to falsification, yet hasn’t yet been falsified the theory is consistent with current knowledge and therefore the theory is not disproved. Yet if a theory is falsified it has to be revisited and looked at again. Falsification provides a way for assumptions and hypotheses to move forward with contemporary knowledge.
Introspection was the preferred method of many 19th-century and early 20th-century psychologists, it implies that one examines and considers their own conscious mental states and processes at the time that they occur. Introspection was founded on self-observation and reporting of conscious inner thoughts, desires and sensations. It was a prominent and key component in the contemporary school of thought which resulted in structuralism, which was proposed by Wilhelm Wundt in 1867. By using the theory of introspection Wundt became one of the first psychologists to produce a coherent school of thought in modern psychology, while also producing a comprehensive study of the human mind and study of human behaviour. He marked the beginning of psychology as a science in its own right as opposed to a link within the school of philosophy, by experimentally testing theories about the structure of the mind. To effectively evaluate the contribution of Wundt and introspection, the theories and methodologies which were used need to be considered within the limitations that the context of the time presented. Furthermore we need to consider the opening for and continuation of new research it has allowed for. Whatever views people have of the theory of introspection, its influence in the development of psychology was great; provoking extensive research, prompting new and challenging questions and also questioning the scientific nature of the subject.
There is no doubt that Wundt and his ideas of introspection marked the beginning of a new era for psychology, he has even been described as the “father of experimental psychology” (Kim,2006). He was responsible for establishing psychology as a recognised, experimental science that was separate from the school of philosophy. Wundt established the first psychological research and teaching laboratory within the Philosophy Department at Leipzig in 1875. This event is generally considered the official start of psychology as a separate and distinct scientific discipline, and a turning point for the continuation of philosophy and psychology as sometime intertwining but different scientific disciplines. He regarded his psychology as a branch of philosophy, an attempt to apply the experimental methods of natural science to essentially philosophical problems concerning the nature of mind and its metaphysical status. Wundt outlined many of the major connections between the science of physiology and the study of human thought and behaviour, which had very rarely been touched upon before. Early philosophers relied on methods such as observation and logic, today’s psychologists utilize scientific methodologies to study and draw conclusions about human thought and behaviour. Physiology also contributed to psychology’s eventual emergence as a scientific discipline. Wundt’s early work in psychology helped set the stage for future experimental methods. An estimated 17,000 students attended Wundt’s psychology lectures, and hundreds more pursued degrees in psychology and studied in his psychology lab.
Moreover introspection was the first systematic attempt to assess mental phenomena and made an early contribution to techniques still used in experiments today. Introspective method involved one's careful self, examination and reporting of one's conscious experience, what one is perceiving, feeling, thinking, or sensing at each particular moment in time (New World Encyclopedia contributors 2007). For example, people would be exposed to a visual or auditory stimulus, a light or a sound, and asked to report their conscious reactions to the stimulus. Its aims were new and exciting, to analyse the content of conscious experience, to determine how the elements of consciousness are connected and to devise a law which would explain such connections. Indeed the methods used, including the use of robust controls and scientific apparatus, helped to establish psychology as a distinct discipline. The method of introspection was not just a simple reflection on experience. Subjects were rigorously trained in the process of examining, describing, and reporting immediate sensory experience in response to systematic questioning. There was a defined structure and exacting conditions for optimum results when subjects were taking part in experiments involving introspection. These included conditions such as; subjects should be unbiased and should prevent other associations and experiences from influencing the report of the immediate experience. In addition, subjects should be alert, free from distractions, healthy, fresh and free from fatigue. Aspects of these methods continue to be used in today’s psychological experiments, ideas such as counterbalancing and between participant designs have become essential to stop fatigue and practice effects. Indeed thanks to these methods and the passage of time, study of human behaviour developed into a complex, systematic and well established discipline of its own.
Nonetheless, there have been many problems with the proposal of introspection. Like so many popular sciences at the time, Wundt and others sought only confirmations for their hypotheses. Any evidence or anecdote that seemed to confirm the science was readily accepted as a ‘truth’ of introspection. However there was never any evidence that could be falsified, as introspection is private. To be a scientific theory, refutable hypotheses, which claim either something, will or will not happen need to be generated. In introspection this falsification was not possible, because there was never any subject matter that could be falsified. Hence according to Popper’s scientific paradigm, introspection is not a scientific theory because it does not open itself up for falsification.
Another major problem for the practice of introspection was that the only data produced was objective Introspection is private and extremely subjective, therefore it can be viewed as a non-scientific method of studying psychology, and there are no controls or definitive answers. This is mainly due to the fact that the thoughts or mental processes, perceived by the observer cannot be exactly replicated in another independent observer. Consequently it can be said that self reflection is a subjective operation. Introspection
can only portray "the way things seem to you not the way they are"
(Stevan Harnad, 1995). That is introspection is reliant not only on
personal perception but it is also upon the individual's understanding and interpretation of the observed factors. Factors such as previous life experiences, personality and knowledge ability mean that everyone perceives things differently. Thus this makes introspection between observers futile as conflict may exist. Due to the personal nature of introspection, the observer cannot experience or replicate the exact experience of another. Secondly the observer may believe to be influenced in the same way by the same experience, although in reality the experiences of both observers are very dissimilar, and there is no way to settle the difference. So the main problem with introspection is one of an empirical kind. It is broadly agreed that many methods of studying introspection will generate unreliable and conflicting data. Indeed the behaviorists, such as John B. Watson, condemned introspection as qualitative and unreliable. They believed that the consideration of all notions of subjective experience were far beyond a scientific approach. Emphasizing only observable behavior analyzed in terms of measurable stimuli and responses can be considered reliable and true data.
In conclusion although introspection has been discredited and vastly criticised for it is almost non existent scientific method, there is no doubt that it has had a huge impact and influence on the subject of psychology. A theory should spark interest and begin to pave the way for further thinking, research and hypotheses. Wundt’s theory and views have produced centuries of thinking and development on the subject of cognitive psychology. Although many of the specifics have not stood the test of time, introspections contribution to the development of psychology cannot be denied. It marks the breakaway of psychology from the school of philosophy, and allowed psychology to stand alone within the sciences.
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