Structuralism Psychology: A Beginner’s Guide The school of psychology called structuralism defines the human mind as composed of separate parts rather than an integrated whole like many other schools of thought. The first influential figure in this school was Wilhelm Wundt, who opened the first psychology lab in 1879 in Germany.
The idea of structuralism psychology has its roots in the work of Wilhelm Wundt. He was a German psychologist who studied with Hermann von Helmholtz and Emil DuBois-Reymond at the University of Berlin. His work on perception, consciousness and experimental introspection created the foundation for structuralist psychology. He is considered one of the fathers of reverse psychology because he was the first person to use it as an experimental science. The origins of Structuralist Psychology can also be traced back to Alfred Binet.
Binet, a French psychologist, created intelligence tests that measured individual intelligence quotient (IQ) scores. These scores were used to identify children with learning difficulties so they could receive the appropriate educational interventions early on. The most crucial thinker in structuralism psychology is Louis Claude Leon Bernard Léon (1859–1947).
Léon was born in Paris, France, and became one of Europe’s most influential psychotherapists during his time. His most notable contribution includes understanding psychological phenomena by looking at their internal structures rather than from an external point of view.
Structuralism Psychology is a psychological theory that emphasizes the innate structures of the mind and human behavior. The Structuralist school of thought was founded by Ferdinand de Saussure, who believed that individual behaviors are not caused directly by specific experiences but are somewhat influenced by cultural norms and social structures. According to this perspective, the human mind has a set of innate mental structures developed in response to physical stimuli.
These mental structures then produce thoughts and behaviors that become habitual because they are repeated over and over again. When people experience new stimuli or events, their mental framework allows them to respond to them based on how they have reacted in the past with other similar events or stimuli.
People often do not realize that they are reacting to an event based on previous stimuli; however, if one stimulus varies too much, it will be noticed as different and might be hard for some individuals to understand.
In the early 1970s, a theory emerged that would challenge many of Freud’s principles. Named after the French philosopher Claude Lévi-Strauss, structuralism was an ambitious attempt to recast psychoanalytic theory in a way that could account for all types of human behavior. The structuralists believed every culture could break down into three elements: social structure, linguistic meaning, and symbolic thought.
Social structures are the patterns of interactions between people and include things such as kinship systems, religion, and government. They also determine what type of language is used within a given society. Symbolic thought includes activities such as dreaming, daydreaming, and art making, while linguistic meaning is conveyed through spoken or written words or other forms of communication.
Structuralism offers insight into not only how different cultures operate but how they interact with one another too. For example, take indigenous South American tribes and their languages. These tribes generally have no written forms of language but communicate by drumming instead.Despite this difference, these two cultures still share aspects of social structure.
Like family relationships and roles assigned to specific individuals within the tribe, because humans are fundamentally similar at their core. Language isn’t just about speaking or writing symbols; it’s about understanding the world around you by transforming raw data into something more meaningful that helps you navigate your surroundings and understand your life better.
The structuralists came up with a theory of how the mind works. This theory was that thoughts are made up of mental structures and rules related to each other in an unconscious system. One might say that these structures and rules form the building blocks of our minds. The idea is that, on the deepest level, we already know how to think because we are born with a particular set of structures and rules built into our brains.
If one were to take this hypothesis seriously, it would mean that one has been thinking all along but didn’t know it. Structuralists, such as David Kellogg, Lewis, and Noam Chomsky, wanted to use language as their primary object of study. Language became more than just how humans communicate; they saw it as an active mental process reflecting who we are at the most basic level. As explained by Christopher Cuddy (2010), structures influence our view on things.
Freud, Sigmund. New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Norton lectures series; 9. 1965.
Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Norton lectures series; 18. 1981
Foucault, Michel (1965) Truth and power in Colin Gordon ed., Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 (New York: Pantheon Books) pp 121-123 4. Bourdieu, Pierre. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press; 1984 5. Le Breton, David (2009) The Ethics of Attraction Soundings vol 93 pg 487 7
This beginner’s guide is intended to provide a cursory overview of the structuralist perspective on psychology. There are many other schools of thought in psychology, such as social learning theory and behaviorist theory. However, given its popularity and simplicity, the structuralist perspective will be covered in this post.
Structuralists focus on the development of our mental structures, which they believe dictate what we perceive. How we behave, and what we know. While behaviorists believe that all behaviors can be traced back to their antecedent stimuli (i.e., reinforcement). Structuralists believe that behaviors are motivated by thoughts (i.e., free will).
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