Historically when psychology was first established, the main focus was how to describe human behavior and examine the mind. This led to the development of the first two schools of thought i.e. structuralism and functionalism.
Structuralism vs Functionalism
The difference between structuralism and functionalism is that structuralism focus on the structure of the mind i.e. analyzing consciousness spending on the elements of the mind such as perception, sensation etc. whereas functionalism focus on the function of the mind i.e. analyze “why and how” the mind functions
Structuralism was introduced by William Wundt and focuses 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 mind functions i.e. what is the purpose behind a certain behavior
Comparison Table Between Structuralism and Functionalism
|Parameter of Comparison||Structuralism||Functionalism|
|Lead by||William Wundt||William James|
|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|
|Primary method||Introspection i.e. examining and becoming aware of one’s own conscious, feeling and emotions||Focuses on applications with the help of mental testing and behavioral methods.|
|Criticism||It is too subjective as a result it lacks reliability. Also, it puts a lot of focus on internal behavior, 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 made great advances 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.
Just like chemists who found and analyzed various molecules in water, psychologists too 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 the term structuralism – “the analysis of mental structures” – to explain the branch of psychology.
Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920) was the first person to be called as 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 we know that 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 put focus on internal behavior, which cannot be observable and measured.
But structuralism still has its significance as it is the first school of thought in psychology and is a part of experimental psychology.
What is Functionalism?
Though structuralism came as the first school of thought, many psychologists opposed the analytic nature of it. One of them was William James. He was a well-known psychologist at Harvard University. According to him, analyzing and just knowing the components of consciousness was less important and just not enough. 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 to function in a healthy manner.
Functionalism developed as a reaction/counter argument to structuralism. It was highly influenced by the theory of Charles Darwin.
Functionalism focuses on why and how the mind functions i.e. what is the purpose behind a certain behavior.
It also puts greater importance to individual differences, which has resulted in a greater impact on education.
Functionalism has influenced the school of behaviorism 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 Wundtr whereas functionalism was founded by William James.
- 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. analyse “why and how”the mind functions.
- Structuralism used introspection i.e. examining and becoming aware of one’s own consciousness, feeling and emotions whereas functionalism Focuses on applications with the help of mental testing and behavioral methods.
- Structuralism is criticised as it is too subjective as a result it lacks reliability. Also, it puts a lot of focus on internal behavior, which cannot be observable and measured. Whereas 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 counter argument to structuralism with a heavy influence by Charles Darwin theory.
It can be seen that Nineteenth-century psychologists were highly interested in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, something that is visible in the theories as well.
People and theorists believe that the evolution of consciousness has taken place only because it serves some purpose in an individual’s day to day life activities.
Both structuralists and functionalists no matter having difference, have the main focus on the science of conscious experience.
No matter what, both have contributed immensely in the field of psychology and have influenced various other theories and school or thought later on.