Roles of Researchers in Introspective Psychology

Gerhard Kleining, Thomas Burkart, Peter Mayer


(1) The paper presents various methodological approaches involving different roles of the research person, the topic of research and its social environment in introspective psychology. Introspection has been the main method of classical psychology and the preferred method of the Würzburg School. Systematic application of introspection came to an end after a change of the concept of psychology and the role of researchers. Earmarks were continuous at­tacks of "objective" psychology of the nineteenth century, the verdict against introspection by Behaviorism and a widely accepted deductive paradigm in academic psychological research since the middle of last century.

(2) The Hamburg Group of psychologists and social scientists tries to reestablish the method of introspection as a qualitative tool based on an explorative or heuristic methodology and a new "dialogic" research technique. Our at­tempt is to improve the validity of this method by combining classical (individualistic) and Würzburg (test-person-centered) research designs. It involves the elimination of a fixed hierarchical role differentiation between researcher and the test person by introducing a rolechanging and dialogic process between them. Researchers in either role should be treated as equally competent subjects, capable of reflection, observation and communication. In this way the subject should be brought back to introspective research.

(3) The paper was prepared for the "Workshop 2001: The Role of the Researcher in Qualitative Psychology" by the Zentrum für Qualitative Psychologie, University of Tübingen in Blaubeuren/Germany, October 19-21, 2001.

Roles of Researchers in Introspective Research in Classical Psychology and the Würzburg School

Gerhard Kleining & Peter Mayer

1. Introspective Research in Classical Psychology: The Self-Experiencing Individual

(1) Introspection in classical psychology - ca. 1880 - 1920 - was either experimental e.g. reactivation research with partly considerable technical devices, large series and quantification (Wundt, Titchener) or phenomenological (Brentano, Husserl) with many variations inbetween.

(2) Wilhelm Wundt defined psychology as the science of "direct experience" ("unmittelbare Erfahrung") which sees inner and outer experience as only different points if view (1896, 9). The methods of the sciences ("Naturwissenschaften"), experiment and observation, are also applicable to psychology. "Pure observation" (28), however, as well as self-observation (10) are not possible within empirical psychology due to the process character of psychic experience. Wundt transferred the method of the experiment from the sciences, in particular from physiology, into psychology (1874) enabling the researcher to investigate psychic processes by intentionally creating certain sensations within the individual at a desired moment. The second method of the sciences, observation, should be restricted to the studyof general and rather stable mental products, as language, myths or modes of behavior. "Psychology therefore has two exact methods, similar to the sciences: the first, the experimental method, serves to analyze simple psychic procedures; the second, the observation of generally valid mental productions, to investigate higher psychic processes and developments." (29). Wundt originated a division of psychology into two fields of complexity ascribing them different methods: Experimental Psychology and "Völkerpsychologie" (which today could be named "Cultural Psychology").

(3) For Franz Brentano psychology was "the science of psychic phenomena" (1874, 27) dealing with the "most related and complicated phenomena" (39). Source of knowledge in psychology predominantly is "inner perception of ones own psychic phenomena (innere Wahrnehmung)." "We would never know what an image is, a judgement, what joy and harm are, desire and disgust, hope and fear, courage and despair, what a decision and an intention of will were if not inner perception of our own phenomena would show it to us." Brentano stressed "Inner perception, not inner observation", defined as an intentional direction of attention toward the inner self, which (since Kant) was seen as impossible during the actual experience of the psychic phenomena e.g. rage (40, 41; Brentano's ita­lics). To overcome the disadvantage of inner perception Brentano suggested to add the observation of our previous experience stored in our memory as well as to enlar­ge our own restricted experien­ce using the representation of psychic life of others which would "en­large the peculiar facts for psychology a thousand times" (61, his italics).

(4) The obvious differences between Wundt's and Brentano's concepts of psychology - and the role of a psy­cho­lo­gist in empirical research - should not obscure their similarities. Both believed that the con­tribu­tions to psychological knowledge requested a psychologist experiencing himself, re­flec­ting a concept of individuality, reflexive individualism and potential potency, an expert in his own right. It was the ideal of a self-expe­rien­cing and self centered indivi­dual as hi­s own obser­ver or reci­pient of his own inner images, his own data col­lector, proto­col recor­der, ana­lyst and in­for­mant. In this re­spect his role of a researcher can be called highly auto­no­mous or even so­lipsi­stic.

(5) The differences between both influential figu­res are equally visible. ­Wundt divi­ded the field of psy­cho­lo­gy into simple and higher processes, ascri­bing diffe­rent me­thods to the study of both - experi­ment and obser­va­tion. Though the introduction of the experiment into psychology was a very important step forward methodologically, by restricting experiments to simple processes as sensations and a quantifica­tion of results he at the same time nar­rowed the re­searcher's po­ten­tial roles. He would not ac­cept expe­ri­ments with phe­no­mena of higher com­plexity. He also would not apply the me­thod of ob­ser­va­tion to the self. Bren­ta­no in con­trast to him, thin­king about complex ever­yday psy­chic phe­no­me­na sug­ge­sted to listen to the inner self in­tro­spec­ti­vely, use memory and the reports of other people as well. It seems clear that Bren­tano's "pheno­meno­logical" con­cept was more at­tractive for the Würz­burg explora­tive psy­chology and that Karl Bühler might get into a sharp dis­cus­sion with Wundt on the role of the expe­ri­ment in psycho­lo­gical re­search.

2. Introspective Research at the Würzburg School: Introducing the Test Person as a Source of Knowledge

(6) The Würzburg Psychological Institute between 1896 and 1909 produ­ced a number of empirical studies which were of high importance not only for the development of in­trospec­tive research but for quali­tative psychology in general. The "school" was united by the topic - mental pro­cesses as thinking, judge­ment and will - and not by a well defined methodology though empirical re­search and the method of experi­ment were used by all re­searchers. The important difference to the role of the researcher in Wundt's labora­tory was a particu­lar use of test per­sons in intro­spec­ti­ve research first docu­mented by Karl Marbe: the sepa­ration of researcher and data pro­duc­tion.

(7) Karl Marbe has been working at the Würzburg Institute since its foundation and beca­me his asso­ciate direc­tor. The director was Oswald Külpe, a former student of Wundt, who had founded the In­stitute and certain­ly created the atmosphere which made it possible for his young students to explore various me­thodo­logies and test approaches. He himself did not publish a piece of re­search under his own name, but parti­ci­pated as a test per­son in his student's work.

(8) Mar­be's publi­ca­tion can be regar­ded as a door ope­ner to ex­plora­ti­ve in­trospecti­ve re­search (Mar­be 1901, 1-24, 43-48; Ziche 1999, 78-97). Seen from Wundt's concept of empirical psychological research there were several important improvements opening up new opportunities for ex­plora­ti­ve research.

  • He studied everyday and complex psychic processes ("Erleben"): how judgements are for­med and experienced. Sen­ten­ces as "we were at home yesterday" or "we will be at the railroad sta­tion to-mor­row" are judge­ments - a phrase to be regarded as "right" or "wrong".
  • Though the research was performed within the Institute, the test situation was "natural": the researcher took notes how the respondent reacted to the tasks of the test and recorded whate­ver he said to the researcher. Obviously instruments as in Wundt's laboratory were not ap­plied.
  • Marbe used different respondent's introspection (his pro­fes­sors, colleagues and stu­dents, seven in all - but not his own) and a large number of areas in which everyday judge­ments oc­cur. He loo­ked for a com­mon pattern ("Übereinstimmung") in his "partly very diffe­rent tests" (Ziche 1999, 95) - a me­tho­do­lo­gy of varia­tion and analy­sis of similarities which is ex­plora­ti­ve.
  • He freed methods from Wundt's restrictions: accepting inner "pe­rception" as well as the general use of experiments - qualitative as well as quantitative. He seems to be the first to describe quali­ta­ti­ve expe­ri­ments (83) in a psy­cho­logi­cal publica­tion.

(9) Marbe's results were correcting the leading theories of his time including Wundt's: judgements were not logi­cal proce­dures based on division or combination of elements which were connecte­d by as­so­ciations but psy­chic phe­no­me­na on the basis of intended similari­ties or dissimilarities with existing men­tal ima­ges.

(10) Seen from the Marbe's methodological achievements the study of Nar­ziss Ach on will and thinking is a step back (Ach 1905). His role as a re­searcher can be seen as a "con­trol­ler". He deve­lo­ped a me­thod of "Sy­ste­ma­tic Expe­ri­mental Self-Obser­va­tion" (Ziche, 1999, 104) using vario­us forms of safe­gu­ar­ding:

  • the restriction of thinking to association, e.g. to non-sense syllables
  • a particular "un­natural" setting: a test room filled with instruments (nine in all) - similar to Wundt's laboratory and
  • elaborated control of the test person's answers (also called "reactor"): they were sub­jected to intensive interrogation by the "exami­nator" (Ach him­self) to find out whet­her or not he actually did report what was in his mind.

(11) However there was detailed recording of the re­spondent's answers - in one case as volu­mi­nous "as a book". Ach also noticed that repea­ting the tests with diffe­rent per­sons and under varied cir­cum­stan­ces could elimi­nate indivi­dual decep­tions (113).

(12) Despite the rather authoritarian social setting an im­por­tant result emer­ged: the proof of the exi­sten­ce of "de­ter­minating tendencies", reported during a retro­spec­tion period after the actual test, showing inten­tional directions of the thinking process. The existence of "determina­tion tendencies" also could be proven as existent after they had been in­du­ced by hypnosis. The machinery in the test room did not seem to con­tribute to any of the results.

(13) Karl Bühlerfollowed Marbe in his methodological openness and achieved the role of a disco­verer. His translation of "eureka" ("Aha-Erlebnis") is well known. His methodology in his re­search on the psychology of thinking (Bühler 1907, 297-365, Ziche 1999, 157-209) and his role of a re­searcher is charac­terized by the following:

  • He studied everyday and complex thinking processes - which was far away from Wundt's reac­tion expe­ri­ments or Ach's associations to non-sense syllables. "Can we com­prehend the essence of thinking by thin­king?" "Can you calcula­te the speed of a free falling body?" "Is the sentence cor­rect: The future is in the same way conditioned by the pre­sent as is the past?" (Ziche 1999, 163, 173).
  • The respondents (Külpe and another university professor) we­re asked those que­stions, gave the answer "yes" or "no" and then described what came to their minds in fin­ding and formulating the response. Answers were given in several sen­tences and written down by the re­searcher. The setting seems to have been quite "natural" (for a university Institute).
  • There was a variation of test persons and tasks - 352 individual tests of introspection.
  • The tests were "qualitative experiments" in Marbe's sense - without using his phrase.
  • The different segments of data were analyzed to show the "whole by a synthesis of them" (183).

(14) Results were manifold. Bühler found three different ways the mind deals with - or analyses - thoughts: dividing them into parts, following the genesis of them and destroying their complexi­ty by memo­ry keeping only key information on them, e. g. "description of an opposi­tion" (182-184). His experiments showed many examples of "unan­schau­li­chesDen­ken" (thinking without concrete images) which many scientist in those days doubted.

(15) His method (and results) were so different from the standard of experimental psychological research, set by the Wundt laboratory, that it brought him a sharp attack by Wundt on his "Ausfra­geex­pe­ri­men­te" ("suck-out-experiments") which he returned defending his methodology (Bühler 1908).

3. Changing Role of the Researcher in Introspective Research

. (16) A change in the researcher's role from classical psychology to the Würzburg approach can be seen as follows:

  • from simple to complex topics
  • from laboratory situations to a more natural setting
  • from reporting self-experience of an individual researcher to collecting data from a sample of respondents
  • from one-sided tests with large series of the same kind of tests (Wundt's laboratory) to a multi­tu­de of varia­tions of tests and tasks cen­tered around one particular psychological pro­blem
  • from a simple quantification (Wundt's laboratory) to the use of qualitative verbal data (Marbe,Bühler). Wundt's "Völkerpsychologie" and Brentano's phenomenology being "qualitative" from the beginning
  • from a "closed" methodology representing deductive rules to an "open" metho­do­lo­gy to explore certain topics.

(17) In sum: The role of the researcher in classical psychology was that of an "ex­pert" in his own right. InWundt's case he was either in the field of experimentation or observation. As an experimentalist he was working in a labo­ra­to­ry set­ting, full of ma­chi­nery, collec­ting masses of data of a few parti­cular kinds for measurement, ap­plying strong and re­stricti­ve rules of te­sting. Experience is gained by rigorous testin­g of simple mental processes. In the case of Bren­ta­no, the role of the re­searcher was that of an ex­pert philo­so­pher who under­stood that the "empi­ri­cal point of view" of psy­cholo­gy was his ability to explore his own inner life by being perceptive of it. Expe­rience is gained by inner percep­tion.

(18) The role of the researcher in the Würzburg-type psychology was that of an orga­nizer of ­re­se­arch. He was collecting com­plex intro­spec­ti­ve data about ever­yday psychic pro­cesses from co-opera­ting ­col­lea­gues in a more natu­ral social set­ting and proba­bly a friend­ly and co-o­pera­ti­ve atmo­sphe­re under the direction of Os­wald Külpe. The researchers were aware of the importance of a research methodology, which they developed and applied in a more or less "open" and ex­plora­tive way. The re­spon­si­bi­lity of gai­ning results gradually moved from the indivi­dual expert to the methodology.

(References at the end of the second)


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