Study Notes

Introspection (Early Use)

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

Introspection means “looking into” and refers to the process of observing and examining your own conscious thoughts or emotions.

Before Wundt, introspection had been used by philosophers for studying how new ideas are created. These philosophers did not set any limits on the tasks they studied or make any judgments about the relevance of thoughts.

In contrast, Wundt strictly controlled the environments where introspection took place, controlled the stimuli and tasks that participants were asked to think about, limited the range of responses they might give and trained his participants so that they could give the most detailed observations possible.

Wundt’s use of introspection inspired others to apply it to more complex mental processes, such as learning, language and emotion. This required the researchers to exert less control on the way that introspection took place and very soon it became clear that introspection was not a reliable method for finding out about mental states - we can only report a fragment of what we are actually thinking and often have little awareness of the processes that actually influence our decisions.

Similarly, although the fact that participants needed to be trained to introspect gave them a sense of authority, it also meant that their observations were biased by their training and tended to support the theories of the researchers who trained them.

These problems meant that by 1913, Watson was able to argue that introspection should play no part in a scientific psychology and Behaviourism became the dominant approach in psychology.

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