Historically when psychology was first established, the main focus was how to describe human behaviour and examine the mind. This led to the development of the first two schools of thought, i.e. structuralism and functionalism.
- Structuralism is a psychological approach that seeks to understand the mind by analyzing its basic components and relationships, focusing on the structure of mental processes.
- Functionalism is a psychological approach that examines how mental processes adapt and contribute to an individual’s ability to survive and thrive in their environment.
- These early psychological theories provided a foundation for modern approaches to understanding the human mind and behavior, with structuralism emphasizing analysis and functionalism focusing on adaptation.
Structuralism vs Functionalism
Structuralism is a psychological idea that looks at the importance of the individual elements of consciousness and their organization into a coherent system. Functionalism, is a psychological idea that focuses on the adaptive functions of behavior and their contribution to an organism’s well-being.
Structuralism was introduced by William Wundt and focused on the structure of the mind, i.e. understanding consciousness through introspection.
On the other hand, functionalism was introduced by William James, focusing on why and how the mind functions, i.e. what is the purpose behind a specific behaviour.
|Parameter of Comparison
|Main theme/ focus
|Focus on the structure of the mind, i.e. analysing consciousness spending on the elements of the mind such as perception, sensation etc.
|Focus on the function of the mind, i.e. analyse “why and how” the mind functions.
|Introspection, i.e. examining and becoming aware of one’s own conscious, feelings and emotions
|Focuses on applications with the help of cognitive testing and behavioural methods.
|It is too subjective. As a result, it lacks reliability. Also, it focuses on internal behaviour, which cannot be observable and measured.
|It puts a lot of focus on objective matters and ignores the subjectivity of individual thought processes.
What is Structuralism?
During the nineteenth century, chemistry and physics advanced greatly by analyzing complex compounds (molecules) into their elements (atoms).
These accomplishments led psychologists to look for the intellectual elements in the brain that together create more complex life experiences.
Like chemists who find and analyze various molecules in water, psychologists experiment and analyze to find the taste of orange juice(perception) into components such as sweet, bitter, and cold (sensations).
Under the training of Wundet, the first prime advocate of this theory in the US was E. B. Titchener, a Cornell University psychologist. He introduced structuralism – “the analysis of mental structures” – to explain the branch of psychology.
Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920) was the first person to be called a psychologist. He was a German scientist. He established the psychology laboratory at Leipzig, Germany, in 1879.
In his famous book named Principles of Physiological Psychology in 1873, he described “psychology as a scientific study of conscious experience,
and he believed that the goal of psychology was to identify components of consciousness and how those components combined to result in our conscious experience.”
As psychology is a science, structuralism uses introspection as an experimental method to study the mind. This led to a lack of reliability due to data being subjective.
Also, structuralism focuses on internal behaviour, which cannot be observable and measured.
But structuralism is still significant as it is the first school of thought in psychology and part of experimental psychology.
What is Functionalism?
Though structuralism came as the first school of thought, many psychologists opposed its analytic nature. One of them was William James.
He was a well-known psychologist at Harvard University. According to him, analyzing and knowing the components of consciousness was less critical and insufficient.
Importance should be given to why and how consciousness occurs.
Hence, he came up with his approach, i.e. functionalism. It focuses on studying how the mind works in the environment to adapt and function healthily.
Functionalism developed as a reaction/counterargument to structuralism. The theory of Charles Darwin highly influenced it.
Functionalism focuses on why and how the mind functions, i.e. what is the purpose behind certain behaviour.
It also puts greater importance on individual differences, which has resulted in a more significant impact on education.
Functionalism has influenced the school of behaviourism and applied psychology. It has also influenced the education and academic system as well. It puts a lot of focus on objective matters and ignores the subjectivity of individual thought processes.
Main Differences Between Structuralism and Functionalism
- Structuralism was founded by William Wundt, whereas William James founded functionalism.
- Structuralism Focus on the structure of the mind, i.e. analysing consciousness spending on the elements of the mind such as perception, sensation etc., whereas functionalism focuses on the function of the mind, i.e. analysing “why and how” the mind functions.
- Structuralism uses introspection, i.e. examining and becoming aware of one’s consciousness, feeling and emotions, whereas functionalism Focuses on applications with the help of cognitive testing and behavioural methods.
- Structuralism is criticised as it is too subjective. As a result, it lacks reliability. Also, it focuses on internal behaviour, which cannot be observable and measured. Functionalism lacks objectivity and reliability as the data collected cannot be measured and analysed.
- Structuralism became a part of experimental psychology, whereas Functionalism formed as a reaction or counterargument to structuralism with a heavy influence from Charles Darwin’s theory.
Last Updated : 11 June, 2023
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Emma Smith holds an MA degree in English from Irvine Valley College. She has been a Journalist since 2002, writing articles on the English language, Sports, and Law. Read more about me on her bio page.