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Wilhelm Wundt

Wilhelm Wundt Photo

Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt, born on August 16, 1832, was a German physiologist and psychologist well acknowledged as the father of modern and experimental psychology. Wundt was born in Neckarau, Baden – southwestern Germany at a time of great economic prosperity and scientific and educational development. Displaying flair for learning and portraying his genius early in life, Wundt was encouraged by his father, Maximilian Wundt (a Lutheran minister) to pursue a well-rounded education. For most of his childhood, Wundt was tutored and schooled mainly by his father’s assistant, Friedrich Müller, the vicar. At the age of 19, he attended the University Of Tübingen in 1851 and within a year’s time opted for a transfer and pursued studies in medicine from the University of Heidelberg in 1856. While completing his degree in medicine, he turned his attention to physiology and spent a semester studying at the University of Berlin studying under Johannes Müller considered the father of experimental physiology. Upon graduating, Wundt signed up for a position as a lecturer in physiology at the University of Heidelberg in 1856, during which time he also availed the opportunity to serve as an assistant to the physicist and physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz, a physiologist. Wundt served in this position from 1858 until 1865.

In 1862, inspired by his teaching and learning in physiology, Wundt wrote his first ever publication, “Contributions to the Theory of Sense Perception”. This was also around the time when he was offered to teach a course in psychology.

In 1871, when Helmholtz moved to Berlin, Wundt missed being considered Helmholtz’s replacement and instead chose to spend his time writing. It was during this time period that he wrote one of the most compelling works in psychology – Principles of Physiological Psychology. Subsequently, in 1874, Wundt joined the University of Zürich as chair in “inductive philosophy”, a position he would acquire for only a year before agreeing to serve as chair the first-class chair of philosophy at Leipzig, Germany in 1875. It was at Leipzig in the year 1879 that Wundt founded the world’s first formal psychological laboratory. This establishment of an official laboratory space for psychological studies helped render psychology as an independent field of study/subject. Up to the point, the Wundt undertook efforts to do so, psychology was deemed as an aspect of philosophical studies and was thus only taught as a component of a bigger course.

The laboratory became a teaching ground for many graduate students supplanted by the various experiments in the thought process, cognition, feeling and ideas conducted by Wundt to put forth his theories and concepts. One such gainful theory stated that ideas rooted in perception were no different from those arising from memory. Wundt aimed to study cognitive processes and their effect on human behavior and thought process.

Since the establishment of the laboratory, Wundt spearheaded, supported and executed various doctoral dissertations in psychology, catering to a diverse range of both local and international graduate students who began to pursue independent studies in psychology. He through his teachings laid emphasis on integrating theories and studies of physiology with those of psychology to better understand the human mind and the dynamics that entailed with the human thought process.

Apart from a keen interest in the human mind, Wundt was also quite fascinated with linguistics and how the human brain governed language as well as the human perception. He studied sensory physiology, including spatial perception, visual perception and optical illusions to establish an illusion which came to be characterized as the Wundt illusion. According to this thought, ‘two straight lines positioned in front of a series of angled lines appear to bend’.

For his many achievements and everlasting legacy, Wilhelm Wundt was granted Honorary doctorates from the Universities of Leipzig and Göttingen and was appointed as a member of various scientific and academic organizations in and around Germany. In memory of his contributions, a minor planet/asteroid was allotted his name – 635 Vundtia.

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