Chapter 19

Titchener and STRUCTURALISM:  The beginning of experimental psychology in America


            The beginning of professionalism in American psychology  can be precisely dated.  On July 8, 1892, G. Stanley Hall, convened a meeting of academic and professional men in the parlor of his home in Worcester, Massachusetts.[1]  Hall had called the meeting to discuss the organization of a society for the promotion of the "new psychology."  The group quickly decided that it was time for such an organization.  With that decision the American Psychological Association was founded.  Of the charter members, there were 26 individuals originally listed.  Five individuals were added at the last minute to make up a total of 31 original members.  The American Psychological Association would become the primary vehicle for the professionalization of psychology in America.[2] 

            The new psychology had as it "new" aspect, experimentation, but at the time of Hall's meeting, most of those identifying themselves as psychologists gave only lip service to experimentation and some, like William James, were actually hostile to it. 

            The move to the laboratory as the primary source of psychological information and the systemization of the data from the laboratory did not come from William James or G. Stanley Hall or the nineteenth century American milieu.  It was the next generation, and particularly the psychologists returning with their degrees from German universities who would initiate the epoch  of experimental psychology.  One of these second generation psychologists who would unfurl the banner for a non-teleological and non-functional psychology and who would act as a catalyst for the reformation of American psychology was  Edward Bradford Titchener (1867-1927).  Others of the second generation, particularly James Rowland Angell (1867-1949) and J. McKeen Cattell (1860-1944) who will be discussed in the next chapter, developed functionally oriented experimental psychologies, typically called Chicago Functionalism and Columbia Functionalism, respectively.


Edward Bradford Titchener and Structuralism.

            For over thirty years, well into the second decade of this century, at Cornell University, an academic ceremony took place each day the professor of psychology lectured on introductory psychology.  Shortly before the class hour the professor inspected the demonstrational material that had been laid out; the staff and assistants gathered in his office, which adjoined the lecture room; the professor donned his Oxford master's gown, which, as he put it, "gives me the right to be dogmatic;" the staff filed through one door to take front row seats, the Professor emerged through another door directly onto the lecture platform.  The lecture began.

            Such was the grand manner in which lectures were offered by Edward Bradford Titchener, the representative in America  and, in his view, the perfecter of the analytical, introspective psychology originated by Wundt in Leipzig.[3]  Trenchant and powerful lectures, they were often the occasion for pronouncements about his system of psychology, and to Titchener's audience of staff, graduate students, and sophomore college students, Titchener's system was psychology.

            Titchener was not the first of Wundt's students to come to America.  There had been several American students before him.  After these American students returned home from their one or two years with Wundt, however, they significantly modified his views according to their particular temperaments and almost always in the direction of the functionally oriented and teleologically - tinged concepts that permeated the American scene. Titchener was not American, however, but English.  Perhaps because of the difference between his early education and that of his American contemporaries, he was less disposed toward functional and teleological views.  This is not to say that Titchener was an uncritical follower of Wundt.  As we shall see, he fundamentally disagreed with much his master's idealism and developed a positivistic psychology to "correct" Wundt's shortcomings.  Titchener did not feel that he was opposing Wundt, however, but merely expanding and perfecting what Wundt had begun.  In general, Titchener's version of Wundt's psychology was more consistent and systematically more explicit that was Wundt's.  Titchener also went beyond his master in his devotion to and dependence on the laboratory and its experimental method as the primary source of psychological data.  As we shall see, this was perhaps Titchener's major contribution to American psychology.


Life of Titchener


            E. B. Titchener was born in 1867 in the old Roman town of Chichester, England.  His father had died while Titchener was a boy.  Even before the father's death, however,  Titchener was sent to live with his namesake paternal grandfather, Edward Titchener,  who was an attorney.  Titchener was reared with all the trappings and notions of an English gentleman.  Titchener's early education was begun by a tutor, but he later went to the local Anglican cathedral school.  By the time Titchener was in his early teens his grandfather lost much of the family wealth during an economic downturn.  Titchener's grandfather died soon thereafter, leaving young Titchener with little monetary security.  At fourteen, Titchener went to Malvern College on a scholarship, a new but already recognized public school.  He was very successful there and grew from a withdrawn, bookish boy to a skilled debater and confident young man.  He continued his studies at Oxford, also on scholarship, where for four years he concentrated upon philosophy and the classics.  At one time Titchener considered himself a follower of Herbert Spencer.  While he later rejected most Spencerian notions, the positivistic aspect of Spencer appears to have remained an influence.  It was perhaps due to his contact with Spencer's teachings that Titchener came in contact with the "new biology" of Darwin.  He came to know personally, Darwin's son, George, Thomas Huxley, Francis Galton, E. B. Tylor and several other leaders of the Darwinian revolution.  Titchener's interests turned to comparative animal psychology and he published several articles on the subject while still a student at Oxford. He also came to know John George Romanes, one of the early writers on comparative psychology, but Titchener was disappointed in Romanes and the comparative psychology of his day because the research was almost entirely anecdotal.  Even in those days, Titchener was seeking for a systematic and experimental approach to mental life.  He was also dissatisfied with what he called the "logical construction of the English school".[4]  It was in the psychology of Wilhelm Wundt that he found the approach he was looking for. As he later put it, he heard about psychology at Oxford; he studied it at Leipzig.[5]  

            Because his background was almost entirely in philosophy, Titchener had very little formal training in science.  For this reason Wundt felt it would be better for him to stay at Oxford for an additional year beyond his bachelor's degree and gain direct experience in laboratory work.  Titchener did this by spending a year as research student to John Scott Burdon Sanderson, the premier experimental physiologist in England.  The year was a revelation to Titchener and he identified with the careful experimental procedures and systematic care he saw in Burdon Sanderson's laboratory for the remainder of his life .

            Titchener arrived in Leipzig in the fall of 1890.  He found himself a part of an active, enthusiastic group of future psychologists, including a half-dozen from the United States.  Meumann, mentioned earlier, was his roommate, and Külpe was Dozent, Wundt's laboratory assistant.  Despite the fact that Titchener's stay at Leipzig lasted only two years, Wundt made a lifelong impression on him.[6]  Titchener could not have been with Wundt at a better time.  Wundt was making the transition in the early 1890's from his attempt to catalogue every psychological experience to a more organized systemization.  While Titchener would later move away from many of Wundt's ideas and approaches, he always held to the values of the laboratory and of system building that he learned from Wundt. Still, Titchener's saturation in the English psychology and particularly the influence on him by the positivistic views of Hume, Spencer, and John Stewart Mill, caused Titchener to question Wundt's idealistic view.  As we saw in Chapter 16, Külpe and Titchener were greatly influenced by their reading of the writings of Richard Avenarius and particularly Ernst Mach.  That influence would give Titchener the conceptual tools he needed to "perfect" Wundtian psychology. That influence will be discussed below.

            After receiving his degree from Leipzig in 1892, Titchener returned to Oxford, where for a summer  he served as an extension lecturer in biology.  To stay on at Oxford would have been his ambition, but Oxford and England was not ready for psychology.  In any event, he had agreed to accept a position at Cornell University, replacing a friend from Leipzig, Frank Angell, who was leaving for Stanford University.  Titchener intended to stay at Cornell only for two or three years until something turned up at Oxford or Cambridge, but he spent the remaining 35 years of his life at Cornell.

            So in 1892 Titchener arrived in Ithaca, New York, on the relatively new campus of Cornell University.  He was assistant professor of psychology, but more importantly, he was in charge of the laboratory that his friend Frank Angell had begun the year before.  In 1892, psychology at Cornell was still part of the philosophy program.  In 1895, however, when psychology separated from philosophy, Titchener became the head of the new program and gained a full professorship.

            For the next few years, Titchener was busy organizing the laboratory, buying and building equipment, carrying out research, writing articles (sixty-two between 1893 and 1900), and gradually attracting more and more students.  At first he participated personally with every study in his laboratory, but discontinued this arduous practice in later years.[7]  His research then came almost entirely through his students; he himself published nothing from the laboratory under his own name alone.  His own published research consequently gives no indication of his productivity; it was through his direction of student investigations that the basis for his systematic statements was developed.  Under his direction, fifty-eight doctorates and many minor studies were conducted.  Of the forty-six studies published in the first thirty volumes of the American Journal of Psychology, fifteen were on sensation, eight were on perception, six each were on memory and attention, and the rest were scattered over related fields.

            When Titchener arrived at Cornell in the fall of 1892, he was surprised at the primitive state of American psychology.  To him the functionally oriented American psychology was little more than a watered down Cartesianism, where mind was still identified with soul and its activities were the functions studied.  Titchener, like Wundt and James, considered mind in a naturalistic way.  To Titchener, consciousness was the sum total of an individual's experiences at any given moment.  Mind was defined as the sum total of these conscious moments from birth to the present moment.  Mind, then, was nothing more than experiences and was not a substantial entity or some permanent being that stood behind the experiences.

            Titchener found his undergraduate students holding to the earlier faculty concepts of mind.  He also found his students largely monolingual and, because of this, were cut off from the German psychological classics of the new psychology. In 1892 there were only a handful of books of any consequence in English, and none of those took the position of the new German psychology. 

            Titchener sought to introduce the American students to the German literature of the Wundtian strain.  This he did by a program of translation of Wundt's Human and Animal Psychology in 1894, Oswald Külpe's Outlines of Psychology in 1895 and eventually, the first volume of Wundt's Grundzüge der physiologischen Psychologie, just to name a few.  Titchener also influenced others to translate still more of the German literature while he put forth his own version of the new experimental psychology in his Outlines of Psychology in 1896 and his Primer of Psychology in 1898.  After the turn of the century, he would publish the four important volumes of his Experimental Psychology (1901-1905), often called "Titchener's Manuals."  His Experimental Psychology bears the significant and relevant subtitle, A Manual of Laboratory Practice; it was designed to be used in laboratory  courses for training in the methods of psychology.[8]  It is divided into four parts, two instructor's manuals and two student's manuals, one of each devoted to qualitative experiments--sensations, affective qualities, attention, action, perception and association of ideas--and the other devoted to quantitative experiments--thresholds for pressure, tone and sound, Weber's law, the various psychophysical methods, the reaction study of simple discrimination, cognition and choice times, and the reproduction of a time interval.  Qualitative experiments, as he saw them, were essentially descriptions of conscious experiences by means of introspection, in which questions of "what" or "how" are asked; quantitative experiments assume that the mental process as such is already familiar from prior examination, and the task is to gather a long series of rather simple observations, which are then expressed through mathematical shorthand in which questions of "how much" are asked.  Titchener wrote the larger two of these four volumes for the instructors because at the time, most instructors in the laboratory course had not had laboratory experience themselves.  Most experimental psychologists trained between the early 1900's and the 1930's learned their experimental methodology from Titchener's manuals, even though their theoretical positions and areas of research were far different from that of Titchener and his group.  For instance, John B. Watson, founder of behaviorism and arch opponent to Titchener's introspective psychology once wrote to Titchener that "[J. R.] Angell and [H. H.] Donaldson have been like parents to me and I am sure that they will live in my memory as long as I live.  It is an intellectual, social and moral debt... I am not so sure that I do not owe you as much as I owe them.  I think if I had to say where the stimulus for hard persistent research came from I should have to point to you."[9]  These volumes are probably the most erudite and encyclopedic works on experimental psychology written in English. 

            Titchener later updated his Outline in the form of his A Textbook of Psychology published in 1910 and recast his Primer under the title A Beginner's Psychology.  He was never able to write his "big psychology," however.  The large systematic psychology, by the time of his death in 1927, consisted of only a few introductory chapters which were published posthumously as Systematic Psychology: Prolegomena (1929).  One often hears great praise for James's writing skills but Titchener's books are equally and deceptively easy and interesting to read.

            A second of Titchener's activities was to produce experimental psychological research using laboratory methods and concepts and to gain a reliable source for their publication, both for himself and his students.[10]  In 1894, Titchener joined G. Stanley Hall on the editorial board of the American Journal of Psychology.  He soon gained editorial control over a third of very issue and, at last, in 1921, he gained sole editorship.  Titchener filled the American Journal of Psychology with the experimental work from the Cornell laboratory and from the work of researchers elsewhere working in the Titchenerian mold.

            A third act was to produce high quality students, saturated with Titchener's psychology and to spread this psychological view across the country.  Titchener had a genuinely missionary zeal about the new psychology.  He produced a large number of excellent students and placed them with military care in positions around the country where they could come to prominence.  As psychology departments separated from philosophy, Titchener assumed that his students would become the head of the department.  In those days, the head determined the type of psychology presented in the department.  If those psychologists were Titchenerian, then his view would eventually gain the upper hand.  If this was Titchener's plan, it did not work out.  Titchener's students were of extremely high quality and did often rise to the top in their departments and became department heads.  But, just as in the case of Wundt, Titchener's students did not always remain faithful to the precepts of Titchener's psychology, particularly after the rise of behaviorism.  Like Wundt's students, however, the imprint of the laboratory as central to the psychological enterprise did remain with Titchener's students along with a belief in the significance of theory building. 

            It should be pointed out here in a discussion of Titchener's students, in contrast to some erroneous statements made about Titchener, that he was not a misogynist.  He was, in fact, a strong promoter of women in psychology.  Most of Titchener's negative reputation concerning women stems from his exclusion of women from the Experimentalists Society, Titchener's informal group of research psychologists.  This is a fact and stems from Titchener's design of the club to be like an English men's smoker.  It was an unfortunate decision and one that Titchener later regretted.  However, in every other aspect of Titchener's professional life, he was a supporter of women in psychology.  Almost half of Titchener's students were women.  Both in percentage and absolute numbers, no male psychologist in a co-educational institution in Titchener's day produced as many.  He actively promoted women for positions and lamented the fact that so many married and ceased being academic psychologists.  He also appointed Cornell's first female instructor over the objections of his dean.  It is unfair to hold up a nineteenth century man to late twentieth century standards.  In his day and time, when many psychologists would not even accept women as students at all, he was far advanced.

            Perhaps the most significant professional activity in Titchener's own mind was his establishment of a systematic psychology in America that was consistently structural in form and dealt entirely with the contents of experience. This was his structuralist system, which will be discussed in more detail later in this chapter.

            At first Titchener entered into social life at Cornell, but as he grew older, he withdrew more and more from the usual social and university contracts.  He became a living legend to some members of the Cornell faculty, who had heard of him for years but had never met him.  Punctilious and somehow formidable, he gave deference where he thought it due and expected in turn to receive it from those he thought owed it to him.

            Cornell was and is somewhat isolated in its location in relation to the other major universities of the eastern United States.  Travel was still difficult, with the exception of the train and communications were mainly by letter.  The telephone, while available was used primarily for emergencies.  This led to a degree of isolation of Titchener from his colleagues elsewhere.  He was often seen as withdrawn.  There were the meetings of the American Psychological Association, of course, but Titchener soon felt that it was not a serious, experimental organization and that it was more a place to be seen rather than as a place for serious discussion of scientific issues. After the Association had been wrested from the control of G. Stanley Hall by the followers of William James, Titchener rarely went to its meetings.   Titchener broke with the Association in the 1890's because they would not censure a member whom Titchener believed, with good evidence, had plagiarized his translation of Wundt's Human and Animal Psychology.[11]    He rejoined the Association on two other occasions only to resign again. 

            This severance acted to isolate Titchener, although his Cornell colleagues and students continued to be active in American Psychological Association meetings and affairs.  Perhaps to allay his isolation, in 1904, Titchener organized his own group, the "Experimentalists."[12]  It was not an organization in the strict sense; annual meetings were arranged by the director of the laboratory where the group was to meet.  Needless to say, Titchener dominated the meetings and had much to do with selecting those invited and the topics included.  To this day, the group, now somewhat more formally organized, carries on as a worthy representative of experimental psychology of the purest variety.


The Development of Structuralism


            In the 1890's when Titchener arrived at Cornell, functional psychology had not yet become functionalism.  The functional psychology was that of James and George T. Ladd and the early John Dewey.  It was unsystematic and not yet particularly experimental.  Titchener sought to draw a sharp contrast between his positions and that of American functional psychology. 

            By 1896, Titchener was ready to draw the battle lines with functional psychology.  Titchener's  Outline of Psychology, presented the new psychology in his structural form.  That book, along with his articles "Postulates of a Structural Psychology" and "Structural and Functional Psychology,"[13]  formed a challenge to American functional psychology.  Titchener was never very happy with the term "structuralism" but it was a useful term at the time to make contrast with the functional psychologies.  Titchener sought to identify functional psychology or "descriptive psychology," as he called it, with the "armchair" or philosophical psychologies of the past and structuralism with the psychology of the laboratory.  As we shall see, much of the impetus to the development of functionalism, particularly Chicago functionalism was in reaction to Titchener's "threat" to functional psychology.

            In his "The Postulates of a Structural Psychology"  Titchener had differentiated several systematic approaches to psychology, each roughly analogous to divisions in the biological sciences.[14]  First was a structural psychology which Titchener saw as a parallel to morphology.  Structural psychology was "experimental psychology."  Titchener tells us that:


The primary aim of the experimental psychologist has been to analyze the structure of mind; to ravel out the elemental processes from the tangle of consciousness, or (if we may change the metaphor) to isolate the constituents in the given conscious formation.  His task is a vivisection but a vivisection which shall yield structural, not functional results.  He tries to discover, first of all, what is there and in what quantity, not what it is there for."


This was the position Titchener took as his own and which he held as prior to the other systematic approaches. 

            The second systematic approach was that of functional psychology.  Rather than dealing with the analysis of experience into its constituent parts, functional psychology is " the collective name for a system of functions of the psychophysical organism." Titchener identified this functional psychology with the older, "descriptive psychology."  The same objects of study may be dealt with differently in the structural and functional systems, but the result was quite different. 

            Titchener believed that just as experimental psychology was, to a large extent, concerned with  problems of structure, so was "descriptive" psychology, ancient and modern, chiefly occupied with problems of function. 

            There were many other types of psychology listed by Titchener, including developmental and social psychologies.  It was the distinction between experimental, structural psychology and descriptive, functional psychology that most concerned Titchener, however, since the psychologies of William James, John Dewey and James Rowland Angell fell into the functional category and were Titchener's major competition in the American psychological arena.  By the second edition of his An Outline of Psychology, published in 1899, Titchener formally distinguished between "structural psychology" and  "functional psychology"  reserving the proper use of the term "psychology" for the structural approach.

            By 1910, when Titchener's Textbook was released, he was considered as the leader of experimental psychology in America.  He was even called the "dean" of American psychology, even though he was only 43 at the time and not an American. 

            During the 'teens of this century, Titchener's structuralism was threatened on several sides, but primarily by the attacks of John B. Watson.  Watson, in his behaviorist manifesto, "Psychology as the Behaviorist Views it," and his "Image and Affection in Behavior"[15] both published in 1913, attacked all orthodox introspectionistic psychology but drew particular bead on the concepts used in Titchener's structural system.  We should emphasize that Watson attacked Titchener's mentalistic concepts, not the elementistic structure of the system itself.  This is important, for, as we shall see in Ch. 22, Watson would make use of the logic of Titchener's structural system and replace his mentalistic elements with behavioral ones.  The attack was real and serious.  Titchener responded to Watson in an article titled "On Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It,"[16] but Titchener's students were surprised at the apparent mildness of Titchener's response.  Titchener's response will be treated in detail in the section of Ch. 22 on Watson's behaviorism.  Briefly, however, Titchener made a measured response to Watson's manifesto, basically taking the position that Watson's behaviorism was not new, was not psychology and was not science.  Titchener simply did not believe that psychologists, even American psychologists, could be so naive as to accept the premises of Watson's behaviorism.  He simply underestimated the appeal of behaviorism.  Titchener felt a much greater threat to scientific psychology coming from applied psychology and from the followers of Freud.  He saw a looming conflict between the forces of science and those of application and teleology.  When, in fact, the feared became the reality, as it did in the late 1920's, Titchener was not there to attempt to stem the tide.

            Titchener's productivity seemed to drop somewhat during the last decade of his life and many suggestions have been given for that decline.  They range from having gained too much early recognition which left no new fields to conquer to  having run out of ideas.[17]  First of all, Titchener's "lack of productivity" during the last decade or so of his life is a relative matter.  Between 1917 and 1927, he published 55 notes and articles, which can hardly be called unproductive.  It is true, however, that more of his latter production was in the form of short notes than previously. If one adds the theses and minor studies conducted under Titchener's direction during those years, each carefully molded by Titchener, the total is much larger.[18]  To the degree that there was a reduction, it can be  attributed to two factors.  First, the first world war led to a decimation of the small psychology faculty at Cornell.  Most of the young instructors and graduate assistants went to the military.  While Titchener was able to replace some, his work load more than doubled during the 1917-1919 school years.  Shortly after the war, Titchener became the sole editor of the American Journal of Psychology.  While he had cooperating editors, Titchener still did virtually all the editing between 1921 and late 1925.  There is also evidence that the brain tumor that killed him in 1927 had been developing for a number of years and had probably drained him of much of his energy for several years, but certainly in 1926 and 1927.  Another matter that occupied Titchener during these years was the revision of his psychological system and the preparation of his "big psychology."  After he signed the contract with Macmillan to publish the work in the early 1920's, he agreed not to publish elsewhere on systematic matters until the appearance of the book.  The book, of course, never appeared. 

            Titchener's formal system did not long outlive him.   He had taken structuralism well into the era of behaviorism and Gestalt.  He had held fast against the tide of teleological thinking and had held his followers together almost entirely by the power of his own personality.  As we shall see, he had made major changes in his psychological system in his last few years, but they were unpublished at the time of his death except for their obvious impact on theses carried out at Cornell during those last years.  The students who carried on many of Titchener's ideas quickly amalgamated them with functional and even behavioral lines.  Edna Heidbreder, writing only a few years after Titchener's death, called structuralism "not only a distinct and lasting achievement, but also as a gallant and enlightening failure."[19]


Titchener's Views


            Positivism.  To understand Titchener's psychology and his differences with the views of Wilhelm Wundt, the influence on him of positive science and particularly the positivism of Ernst Mach must be considered.  Titchener was trained in the "English school" of philosophy and was particularly attracted by the ideas of David Hume.  Hume and many others in England who followed his ideas held to a positivistic view of knowledge.  In its basic form, this type of positivism is merely anti-metaphysical.  That is, only events that may be directly experienced are considered for discussion.  Since one cannot experience some permanent being standing behind the experiences, then psychology is made of the experiences themselves, the sensations and perceptions that make up our experiential world.  Titchener was greatly influenced by this anti-metaphysical view.  He was also influenced by the non-teleological view of Darwin.  This led Titchener to consider experiences for what they were, not for what they did for us.  Mental events, then, were to be considered structurally, in analyzing them to discover their nature rather than seeking their purpose. 

            The most significant influence on Titchener's thinking, after that of Wundt and Hume, however, was from Ernst Mach and to a lesser degree Richard Avenarius.  It is important to recognize, however, that Titchener did not accept all of Mach or Avenarius -- particularly not their views on science that were interpreted teleologically or their acceptance not only sensations but relations as elements.  In later years, Titchener strongly attacked these aspects of Machian positivism.  Where there was influence however, it was profound.[20]

            There appear to be two primary influences on Titchener from Mach.  One was the matter of the nature of the psychological element that we have already seen influencing Külpe . As we will see when the structure of Titchener's system is described, Titchener followed Mach and Külpe's lead in his treatment of sensations and attributes of sensation. 

            Another and perhaps more significant influence on Titchener was Mach's relativism.  Mach held that the differentiation among physical, physiological and psychological dimensions and their associated sciences, physics, biology and psychology is due to the fact that they view experience in different ways.[21]  Titchener expanded these aspects of Mach's views and made them fundamental to Titchenerian Structuralism.


            Point of View.  If there is a single term that epitomizes Titchener's approach and demonstrates his extension of Mach's relativism, not only to psychology but to science and knowledge in general, it is "point of view."[22]  It is the particular observational or attitudinal perspective an individual takes concerning the world of his or her experience.   Extending Mach's notion, Titchener believed that there is only one existential, that is, observable  universe but that it may be observed in a multitude of ways, making it appear differently, depending on the point of view taken by the observer.  No one of these points of view was necessarily truer than another, but they are different.  For correct understanding of the existential universe, the universe that is observable to us, Titchener believed it was essential for the observer to specify the particular point of view being taken and that it be followed consistently.  Through a description of the existential universe from a consistent point of view, Titchener believed that the subject matter of a discipline is produced.  To mix the points of view within a given observation would produce subject matters made up of incompatible or at best inconsistent contents. The result of such an uncritical mix he called  "muddle," which he believed to be perhaps the greatest threat of all to systematic understanding. 

            An example of this can be found in the different ways physics, biology and psychology look at the same universe. To the old problem: "A tree falls in the forest but there is no one there to hear it. Is there a sound?"; Titchener would answer that it depends on the point of view taken.  From the point of view of physics, which looks at the universe and describes it in terms of radiations, vibrations and material elements and compounds, there would be a sound whether or not anyone was there to hear it.  The world described by classical physics and chemistry exists independently of organisms.  Sound, to physics, is a cyclical rarefaction and compression of air molecules.  Biology would say there was no sound present unless it excited the nervous system of an organism.  Classical biology studied the functions of organismic systems, in this case the nervous system, and how the organism adjusts to environmental changes.  A stimulus exists for biology if an organismic system is altered by it, in this case the auditory nerve of an organism.  Sound for biology, then, is a nervous impulse.  Psychology of Titchener's sort would say there was no sound unless there were an individual there who heard it.  Even if the auditory nerve were stimulated by the sound, should the individual be asleep, there would be no sound, psychologically, since it had no conscious representation.  Classical psychology studied only conscious experience.  Sound, psychologically, is an experience.  So, depending on whether you are speaking as a physicist, biologist or psychologists, the answer to  "Is there a sound" will differ markedly.  The subject matters that make up these three disciplines, according to Titchener, was created by their observing the universe from three consistent but different points of view.


            The Fundamental Sciences.  This representation of three points of view does not exhaust all the sciences possible, but these three were, for Titchener, the three fundamental sciences: physics (which included chemistry), biology and psychology.  One of Titchener's major ambitions for psychology was to have it accepted as one of these three fundamental sciences.  Titchener's opposition to Watson's behaviorism ( see pp. 000-000) can be understood in part because he believed making behaviorism part of psychology would lose for psychology its independent status as the science of mind and reduce it to a subset of biology.  Titchener wanted psychology to remain independent both of biology and philosophy.


            Scientific Explanation.   Science is not just description, of course, but includes explanation.  To Titchener, explanation was a one-step reductive process relative to the three fundamental sciences.  Psychology describes in terms of conscious experience -- sensations, images and feelings, and explains these experiential processes by means of the functioning of the nervous system, that is, biologically.  Biology describes in terms of organismic systems including the nervous system but explains in terms of the physical elements that make up living systems.  Physics describes in terms of physical elements and explains in terms of the relation of space, time and mass.  The psychologist may explain at the biological level and remain a psychologist.  To go beyond that and seek explanation at the physical level, however, makes the individual a biologist, in Titchener's view, not a psychologist.  In this way, Titchener escaped infinite regression, the bugaboo of reductionism.


            Scientific vs. Applied Psychology.  Using the same logic, Titchener held that scientific psychology and applied psychology have fundamentally different points of view.  Scientific psychology, according to Titchener, seeks to understand the facts of psychological experience from a disinterested point of view.  Scientific psychology seeks to understand the nature of things.  The potential utility of the understanding does not enter into the scientific motive.  Titchener believed that once understanding occurs, the applications will follow of themselves.  Applied psychology or "psychotechnics" as Titchener sometimes called it, does not share this point of view.  Technologies seek not to understand but to utilize.  It is sufficient for technology to be able to predict an outcome of an environmental manipulation without understanding how the two events are related.  That is not sufficient for science.  Science seeks to maintain a distance from the subject-matter it treats -- to view the event or fact in a disinterested or objective way.  Technology is interested in obtaining value and thus, in Titchener's view, loses the objectivity of the pure scientist.  Because of this position, for instance, when Watson declared behaviorism to deal with the prediction and control of behavior, Titchener was able to reject it as a scientific enterprise.  Prediction and control are utilitarian and thus technological attitudes, not scientific ones.


            Subdisciplines.  Continuing to follow the logic of his concept of point of view, Titchener divided each of the fundamental sciences  into a large number of subdisciplines, each of which was determined by its particular point of view.  Titchener distinguished several such subdisciplines within what was generally called psychology  They included physiological psychology, psychophysics, experimental introspective psychology, and anthropological psychology.  Each looks at the same existential universe but describes it differently, thus creating different subject matters.  Titchener held that each discipline and subdiscipline must state explicitly its particular point of view and must stick to that point of view throughout.  Inconsistency in this matter would lead, he warned, to a confused  and muddled subject matter. 

            Experimental vs "Other" Psychologies.  Titchener's own special area of study was experimental psychology.  That, for Titchener was the study of the mental processes of normal, adult, human, individuals as obtained through introspective analysis under experimental control.  He made it very clear that his textbooks were a survey of that particular subdiscipline, experimental introspective psychology.  He made mention of the other subdisciplines, but urged the student who was interested in them to find published treatments elsewhere.

            It had been easy enough in the 1890's for Titchener to contrast his introspectionistic experimental psychology as the experimental psychology.  Neither comparative psychology, developmental psychology nor abnormal psychology made much use of experimental techniques in those days.  Even functional psychology, the psychology of William James and George Trumbull Ladd, had been easily dismissed their data were not derived experimentally.  The transition from functional psychology to functionalism, particularly that wrought by James Rowland Angell at Chicago during the first decade of the twentieth century, made matters more difficult for Titchener.  Chicago functionalism was also experimental and so was able to compete with Titchener's structuralism in a way that the older functional psychologies could not.

            Stimulus Error.  In psychological observation, one result of the uncritical mixture of physical and psychological points of view is what Titchener called the stimulus error.  Stimulus error is encountered when a psychologist mixes together his knowledge about the physical stimulus (a physical point of view),  with his experience of that stimulus (psychological point of view).   An example Titchener liked to use was that of the Müller-Lyer Illusion.  Shown the two lines in Figure 1, how should we describe them?  To Titchener, the psychological description would be  "two visual extents with a longer than b."  If the observer knows something about the physics of the Müller-Lyer illusion, however,  he might describe it as "two lines that look unequal but which are really equal."  To Titchener, physically, the lines are equal, psychologically they are not.  By mixing the physical with the psychological standpoints, the result is muddle, neither consistently physical nor psychological.[23] 


            Psychophysical Parallelism.  Another significant aspect derived from Titchener's concept of point of view is found in his version of psychophysical parallelism.  Titchener adhered through most of his career to the doctrine of psychophysical parallelism over against the common sense view of mind-body interactionism.  He wrote:


Our own position has been that mind and body, the subject-matter of psychology and the subject-matter of physiology, are simply two aspects of the same world of experience. They cannot influence each other, because they are not separate and independent things.  For the same reason, however, wherever the two aspects appear, any change that occurs in the one will be accompanied by a corresponding change in the other.[24]


He handled the matter of mind-body relationship, following  Avenarius, in terms of dependent versus independent experience.[25] 


If we look at the whole experience under its independent aspect, we find that certain physical events, certain stimuli, affect the body; they set up in the body, and especially in the nervous system, certain physical changes; these changes cause the secretion of tears.  This is an exhaustive account of the experience, considered as independent of the experiencing person.  If we look at the experience under its dependent aspect, we find that our consciousness has been invaded by grief or remorse or some kindred emotion.  The two sets of events, physical and mental, are parallel, but they do not interfere with each other.[26]


These are points of view that make up the relational equation in Titchener's psychological science, one physical or biological and the other psychological.


            Meaning.  It was Titchener's determination to keep the observational point of view consistent, avoiding a mixture of perspectives, that led him to exclude meanings from psychological description.[27]  In this, Titchener diverged from much of his English empirical and associational background, and from Mach and Avenarius as well.  To Titchener, psychological description involves that which is directly observed -- sensations, images, and feelings -- and not inferences, logical abstractions,  made from them, which he believed ordinary meanings to be.  [28]

            Titchener exhorted the psychological observer to describe what the experience is and not the meanings derived from it.  For instance, if the observer places a finger in a glass of water, a Titchenerian would describe the sensations directly as pressure and coolness: those are the sensations produced in that experimental condition, although images may be called up as well as feelings of pleasantness or unpleasantness accruing to the sensations and images.  The observer who reports "wetness," however, is not describing the experience, the content-process, according to Titchener, but only the "meaning" of the experience.  Titchener accepts, however, that it is possible to do a psychological study of the psychological constituents of meanings.  Meaning can be studied psychologically by studying the content-processes that carry the meaning, usually kinaesthetic or verbal images.  To Titchener, meaning as content-processes, is produced by a pattern of experiences that form a context for another experience.  Titchener's position was that the meaning of an experience should not be confused with the experience itself nor should the two be mixed together uncritically.

            Titchener's position on meaning is perhaps his most original contribution to psychology.  We might do well to consider in some detail just what meaning was to Titchener. In his Textbook Titchener tells us:


No sensation means; a sensation simply goes on in various attributive ways, intensively, clearly, spatially, and so forth.  All perceptions mean; they go on, also, in various attributive ways; but they go on meaningly.  What then, psychologically, is meaning?

            Meaning, psychologically, is always context; one mental process is the meaning of another mental process if it is that other's context.  And context, in this sense, is simply the mental process which accrues to the given process through the situation in which the organism finds itself.[29]


            The situation, then, is the context, the fringe or background that gives meaning to the experience at the focus or foreground.  It can be a transitory collection of sensations or it can be what Gestalt psychology later called "set."  As the context changes, so does the meaning that accrues to the foreground.  A Swastika will have a very different meaning to someone who has just been reading a history of Nazi Germany than it will to someone who has just read an article on Hindu symbolism.  The content-process, the "object," remains the same but its context has changed and with it, the meaning it carries.

            How, then does the context mean?  Titchener can be interpreted to say that the context does not mean so long as it remains context.  If we shift our attention from the foreground to the context, what was previously context now becomes foreground.  It can then mean if it is brought together with another context.  As context it does not mean.  Is this infinite regress?  Titchener would think not.  Meaning is produced through the relationship of an experience at the focus of attention (foreground) with an experience at the margin of attention (context).  One does not go farther back than context.  If one shifts attention to the context, one is dealing with a different equation, even if the previous foreground becomes the new context.  

            As we have said, Titchener held that one may study meaning psychologically, but only in terms of content-processes.  What he opposed is mistaking meanings for content-processes and then  uncritical mixing them as though they were equivalent experiences.

            This distinction between the description of content-processes and meanings was at the heart of the long, unresolved imageless thought controversy between Titchener and Oswald Külpe.  Külpe's Bewusstseinslage, the vague experience unanalyzable as image or sensation was, to Titchener, a product of meaning experiences uncritically mixed with the experiences of thought.[30] 


Titchener's Psychology


            Description of Titchener's system of psychology is sometimes over-simplified.  Critics say that Titchener's structuralism was concerned only with the static elements of experience, not with the study of the process of experience, as James and other had been.  This is simply not true.  To Titchener the "elements" were not fixed "things" but were processes.  He held as did William James that mental life was a constant flux.  Titchener, held, however, that there were lawful aspects to this flux that could be abstracted out by means of analytical introspection.  If, in James's terms, the cross-section of the stream of thought were made, that section is unique.  But Titchener would hold that the aspects that make up that unique cross-section have typical patterns.  Thus, sensations, images, feelings and the like can be abstracted out of the whole and their relationships understood.  Titchener's structuralism was a system of arranging these typical existences. 

            Titchener begins his system with the same problem Wundt did: analysis.  The first task is for the observer to analyze this conscious moment into its simplest parts: elements.  Titchener, following Külpe listed three elements: sensations, images and feelings.  Sensations come to us through the senses; images are internal equivalents of sensations (ideas) and feelings are the simplest emotional experiences that accrue to the sensations and images.  The sensations are described in terms of their attributes.  Expanding on Wundt's quality and intensities for sensations and images, Titchener listed extensity (space), protensity (time) and attensity (clearness or vividness).  Like Külpe, Titchener believed it was possible to analyze any conscious mental process, no matter how complex, into these simple states.  For this reason, Titchener was able to disregard Wundt's doctrine of creative synthesis since space and time were a part of the regular structure of his system. Titchener criticized accessory doctrine such as creative synthesis as psychological "hocus pocus."[31]  Likewise he was able to disregard Wundt's doctrine of apperception, since attensity or attributive clearness was part of the structure.[32]  Titchener believed that Wundt's doctrine of apperception, the process through which attention occurs, was a functional and not a structural concept. 

            In terms of feelings, Titchener also diverged from Wundt.  In 1896, Wundt had deserted his simple pleasantness - neutral - unpleasantness dimension for a tri-dimensional theory of feelings.  Titchener retained the simpler approach.  Feeling, at least until Titchener's revisions of his system in the 1920's was simply the qualities of pleasantness or unpleasantness to some quantitative degree from zero to high.  Thus, the attributes for the element of feeling were quality (pleasantness or unpleasantness) and intensity (zero through high).

            With the elaborations of Wundt's doctrines of creative synthesis and apperception out of the way, Titchener was able to deal with simple perceptions as the direct integration of two or more qualities of some given intensity. Tonal fusions such as musical chords, taste blends such as flavor and tactual compounds such as wet and  oily are of this sort.  Complex Perceptions involved simple perceptions with the addition of some spatial or temporal attribute.  Thus melody is produced by musical chords in some temporal sequence. 

            Parallel to sensations and perceptions, but of internal, origin were images and ideas.  In general, for every possible sensation and its resultants there was an equivalent image and its resultant ideas.  In fact, the two paralleled to such a degree that Titchener would collapse idea into sensation and simply call images "internal sensations."  Once experienced, a sensation or perception could be called up as an image or idea, which is one way in which a context could be formed for a meaning experience.

            Following this same arrangement, there was a development of Feelings parallel to Sensations and Images that led to emotions, then to mood (which was an emotion over a longer period of time) and up to temperament (which was an habitual tendency toward mood or emotions).  

            As with Wundt, it is not possible to detail every aspect of Titchener's system, but it is important to note that Titchener's structural system, as was true of Külpe's system, was able to continue without a seam into the higher mental processes of memory, thought, judgment and all the other areas that Wundt believed could not be studied experimentally.  Since thought was described as the content-experiences that occurred in a given situation (thinking), thought was just as analyzable into simpler states and finally into sensations or images as any perception.  The question arises as to whether the "thought" that Titchener and his students described constitute "thinking."  Thinking is a function and has a physiological basis.  All that Titchener's structural psychology can say about it is the experiences produced.  Those experiences are thought.  Any statement about the process that underlies would be inferences about the experiences. 

            The higher mental processes was the reef on which Titchener and Külpe would founder introspective psychology. We we have seen Külpe's students found unanalyzable components of thought.  Titchener and his students did not.  They were able to analyze the thought experiences into their imaginal components.  The unanalyzable aspects, Würzburg's Bewusstseinslagen, were, to Titchener, the result of Külpe's students mixing meanings with images.  The two laboratories were looking at the same experience but seeing different things because they had taken different points of view.[33] 


Later Developments. 


            This brief overview of Titchener's system has been that of his A Textbook of Psychology of 1910.  Titchener's psychology did not remain fixed.  During the remaining 17 years of Titchener's life, his systematic views changed considerably.

            To some degree, Titchener's collapsing of image and sensation into two different forms of the same thing (externally aroused vs. internally aroused sensations) was a sign of things to come.  Around 1918, Titchener dropped the use of the term "elements" in his lectures, and started out from his attributive dimensions.[34]  After all, if an element is defined in terms of its attributes, then the attributes are the element.  He was left, then with "the ultimate 'dimensions'" of psychological subject-matter as being quality, intensity, protensity, extensity and attensity.[35]

            We will never completely know the direction Titchener would have taken had he lived for another decade.  He appears to have been moving toward an experimental phenomenology, dealing with simple experiences as points on a confluence of attributive dimensions. 

            Boring's obituary of Titchener, published the year Titchener died, closes with the statement that a century may have to pass before it is possible to assess Titchener's place in the history of psychology.[36]  From the present perspective of only some fifty years later, the approach to psychology through introspection seems to have closed with Titchener's death.  Not that content of consciousness as a source of psychological data has disappeared.  That we have progressed beyond Titchener's views anyone with a sense of history would acknowledge, but this inevitable lesson does not detract from the contribution these views represent.  Wundt and Titchener both thought they had set the pattern for psychology.  Actually, their work was but a stage in its history and barely survived Titchener's death.  In fact, the remarkable aspect is the speed with which the change took place.  By 1930, students of Titchener_ were arguing that the homogeneity among psychologists is much greater than the differences and that, except for a few diehards, a reconciliation among the warring schools was actually taking place. The assimilation of many of Titchener's ideas had begun, particularly those involved in dimensions of experience.

            A rigid contentually subjective view of psychology and an adherence to a conscious mentalism expressed through a search for molecular structures were salient features of Titchener's view of the nature of psychology.  This was modified in later years to a view still molecular, but not unrelievedly so, in which dimensions of experience, not the elements, were the object of study.  His insistence that psychology is severely puristic, while characteristic enough, was not vital to it.  Search for general laws, or nomotheticism, did reinforce this purism.

            In saying that Titchener's system did not long survive him is not to say that Titchener's work has not influenced psychology.  Titchener's insistence on the laboratory as the primary source of information about psychological matters has remained fundamental to the American psychological scene and has since spread all over the world.  This is not to say that field studies and case study methods are not used in psychology, but their frequency is far less than laboratory or otherwise carefully controlled research methods.  The fact that every psychology student takes at least one course in experimental methods, typically with laboratory exercises, may be traced back to Titchener and his Manuals.  In that way Titchener put his permanent imprint on the way scientific psychology is taught and practiced. 

            Another and more subtle influence from Titchener's system is the elementistic structure of psychology.  As we will see in Ch. 22, when John B. Watson established his behaviorism, he took over the structural logic of Titchener's system and replaced his mentalistic terminology with behavioral equivalents.  To the degree to which behaviorism is still largely elementistic, Titchener's influence survives, although in a way that probably would not have pleased him.




            Titchener was only one of Wundt's students in America, but he did most to promote the experimental psychology of mind making use of analytical introspection.  Titchener diverged from Wundt in detail, however, although Titchener saw his divergences as perfecting Wundt rather than repudiating him. 

            Titchener sought to find a place for psychology among the primary sciences, along with physics and biology.  To Titchener, psychology was scientific and not applied.  While he held that there were legitimate applications of psychology, he felt they should be carried out by specialists in application rather than by theoretical and experimental psychologists. 

            Titchener's psychology had strong leanings toward what is commonly called positivism, although his connections to Mach have often been overestimated. 

            While Titchener's early psychological positions emphasized elements and attributes of experience, he later moved toward a dimensional approach to psychological experience.

            Of all his contributions, perhaps the most significant was his demand that psychology become a laboratory science, in which the laboratory was the fundamental source of psychology's data.  While his system did not long outline him, his championing of the laboratory effectively ended the era of philosophical psychology of the sort espoused by Brentano and James  as a serious challenge to experimental psychology.



[1]Part of this chapter is drawn from Rand B. Evans,  "E.B. Titchener and the Beginnings of American Experimental Psychology," Revista De Historia De La Psicologia, (Spain), (1984), pp. 117-125.

[2]J. McKeen Cattell, "The Founding of the Association and of the Hopkins and Clark Laboratories," Psychological Review, 50, (1943), pp. 61-62.

[3]E. G. Boring, "Edward Bradford Titchener, 1867-1927."  American Journal of Psychology, XXXVIII (1927):  489-506.

[4]E. B. Titchener, Experimental Psychology:  A Manual of Laboratory Practice (New York:  Macmillan, 1901-1905), I, pt. II, vii.

[5] W. B. Pillsbury, "The Psychology of Edward Bradford Titchener," Philosophical Review, XXXVII (1928):  95-108.

[6]Frank Angell, Titchener at Leipzig, Journal of General Psychology, 1, (1927):  195-198.

[7]Pillsbury, "The Psychology of Edward Bradford Titchener."

[8]Titchener, Experimental Psychology.

[9]John B. Watson, Letter to E. B. Titchener, December 14, 1908, Titchener Papers, Cornell University Archives. 

[10]See, Ryan Tweney, 


[11]E. G. Boring, "Titchener's Experimentalists," Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 1967, 3, 316.

[12]Ibid., Boring, "The Society of Experimental Psychologists:  1904 - 1938," American Journal of Psychology, 51, 1939, 51, 410 - 424;  C. James Goodwin, "On the Origins of Titchener's Experimentalists,"  Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 1985, 21, 383 - 389.

[13]Titchener, "Postulates of a Structural Psychology," Philosophical Review, 7, (1898): 449-465; "Structural and Functional Psychology," Philosophical Review, 8, (1899): 290-299.

[14]Titchener,"The Province of Structural Psychology,"  Philosophical Review, VII (1898) 449-465.

[15]John B. Watson, "Psychology as the Behaviorist Views it," Psychological Review, 20 (1913): 177-179; "Image and Affection in Behavior," Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, 10, (1913): 421-423.

[16]Titchener, "On `Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It,'"  Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 53 (1914)

[17]Julian Jaynes, "Edwin Garrigues Boring: 1886-1968, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 5 (1969): 102; E. G. Boring, Letter to R.M. Ogden, Aug. 18, 1928, Cornell University Archives.

[18]Evans, "E. B. Titchener and His Lost System," Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, VIII (1972): 169.

[19]Edna Heidbreder, Seven Psychologies, (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1933), p. 151.

[20]For another view, see Kurt Danziger, "The Positivistic Repudiation of Wundt," Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 15 (1979): 205-230.

[21]Ernst Mach, Die Analyze der Empfindungen und das Verhaeltniss des Physischen zum Psychischen  (Jena: Gustav Fischer, 1885), Tr. C.M. Williams and Sydney Waterlow as The Analysis of Sensations and the Relation of the Physical to the Psychical, New York: Dover, 1959, pp. 314-315.

[22]This section is drawn in part from Rand B. Evans, "The Scientific and Psychological Positions of E. B. Titchener" in Ruth Leys and Rand B. Evans, Eds., Defining American Psychology:  The Correspondence Between Adolf Meyer and E. B. Titchener. (Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), In Press.  See also, Evans, "Titchener's Relativistic View of Observation and Psychological Processes," in Leendert P. Mos, Ed., Annals of Theoretical Psychology, 4, 1986, pp. 291-297.

[23]Titchener may have set a standard too high even for himself.  See Mary Henle, "Did Titchener Commit the Stimulus Error?"  Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 7 (1971) 279-282.

[24]Titchener, Textbook, 13.

[25]Ernst Mach, The Analysis of Sensations. tr. C.M. Williams  (New York: Dover, 1959, 5th German edition, 1906) 51.

[26]Titchener, Textbook 14.

[27]For a discussion of the background of Titchener's positions on meaning, see Evans, "The Origins of Titchener's Doctrine of Meaning," Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 11 (1975) 334-341.

[28]Titchener, "The Schema of Introspection," American Journal of Psychology, 23 (1912) 498.

[29]Titchener, Textbook 367.

[30]See, Titchener, Thought-Processes; For a position sympathetic to Külpe see, George Humphrey, Thinking: An Introduction to Its Experimental Psychology (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1963 orig. pub. 1951) 106 - 131. For an alternate view on Titchener's problems with meaning, see Mary Henle, "Did Titchener Commit the Stimulus Error?  The Problem of Meaning in Structural Psychology," Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 7 (1971) 279-282.

[31]Titchener,  "A Note on Wundt's Doctrine of Creative Synthesis," American Journal of Psychology, 33, (1922):  351-360.

[32]Titchener, "The Psychological Concept of Clearness," Psychological Review XXIV (1917): 43-61.

[33]A discussion of this issue and its significance to modern cognitive psychology may be found in Harry T. Hunt, "A Cognitive Reinterpretation of Classical Introspectionism," in Leendert P. Mos, ed., Annals of Theoretical Psychology, 4 (1986): 245-290.

[34]Evans, "E. B. Titchener and His Lost System," 172-174.

[35]Ibid., 172; Titchener, "The Term Attensity,"  American Journal of Psychology, 35 (1924):  156.

[36]Boring, "Edward Bradford Titchener."

[37]E. G. Boring, "Psychology for Eclectics," in C. Murchison, ed., Psychologies of 1930 (Worcester:  Clark University Press, 1930), pp. 115-127; J. P. Nafe, "Structural Psychology," in C. Murchison, ed., Psychologies of 1930 (Worcester:  Clark University Press, 1930), pp. 128-140.