Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Wundt, Wilhelm

Wundt, Wilhelm (1832-1920), a German physiologist and philosopher, is known as the father of modern psychology. Psychology developed into a science based on observation and experimentation only in the late 1800's.

Wundt was born on Aug. 31, 1920, in Neckarau, Baden, Germany. He attended the University of Tubingen for a year and received his medical degree from the University of Heidelberg in 1856. He remained there as a lecturer in physiology from 1857 to 1864.

In the mid-1800's, German physiologist Johannes P. Muller and physicist and physiologist Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz began the first systematic studies of sensation and perception. Their work showed that physical processes underlying mental activity could be studied scientifically. Wundt studied under Muller and von Helmholtz. In 1858, he became von Helmholtz's assistant.

In 1875, Wundt became professor of philosophy at the University of Leipzig. Determined to bring scientific method into philosophy, he established the first university laboratory for experimental psychology in 1879. American philosopher William James founded the first psychology laboratory in the United States. The work of James and Wundt marked the beginning of psychology as a field separate from philosophy.

Wundt believed that studying psychology should include both laboratory experimentation and introspection, objective self-observation, using controllable procedures. He studied the nervous system and the senses, as well as the relation of physiology to psychology. He sought to understand the nature of consciousness.

Wundt founded the first journal of experimental psychology, Philosophische Studien. His books Principles of Physiological Psychology (1873–1874) and Outlines of Psychology (1896) represent his great effort to create a science of psychology. He also published Lectures on the Mind of Humans and Animals (1863) and the 10-volume Ethnic Psychology (1900–1920), dealing with culture, religion, myth, and uses of language.

More to Explore