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Edward Titchener

A research paper on Edward Titchener could begin: Edward Titchener was an English born psychologist.  He received a BA in physiology from Oxford University in 1892, before he moved to America. He studied under Wilhelm Wundt, who is referred to as the Father of Experimental Psychology. Titchener was noted for providing the first English translation of Wundt’s Principles of Physiological Psychology. It is no surprise therefore that Edward Titchener would develop an interest in the study of the structure of the mind and how that structure was as significant as the structure of matter and, more specifically, the structure of the brain. Edward Titchener Titchener was appointed to a full time position as professor at Cornell at the young age of 28, during which time he taught his theories in structural psychology.

Edward Titchener’s Theories

Edward Titchener’s theories were based on the concept that the human mind and all of its actions could be charted in the same fashion as the chart of elements used in chemistry. He theorized that complex thoughts were the result of a combination of elements of thought and that all of the human mind’s actions including, but not confined to, the following elements:

  1. Memory
  2. Reasoning
  3. Perception
  4. Imagination

Interestingly, although Edward Titchener was the teacher of the first noted female psychologist, Margaret Floy Washburn, he blocked women from joining as professionals within his organization, the Society of Experimental Psychologists. Edward Titchener studied in several universities during his lifetime, wrote numerous texts, and his beliefs and thoughts were well respected. After his death however, Titchener’s theories on structural psychology became less popular and have ultimately faded into some level of obscurity.

The Fallibility of Titchener's Theories

The fa lability of Titchener's theories were easily challenged. In 1910 Max Wertheimer discovered what became known as the phi phenomenon. This phenomenon is defined as the illusion that two stationary flashing lights are moving from one place to another. The discovery of this phenomenon led Wertheimer to conclude that apparent movement does not need explaining; it existed as perceived and could not be reduced to anything simpler.

In short, the phi phenomenon would be incredibly perplexing to Titchener because of his view on perception. Perceptual constancies refer to a quality of wholeness or completeness in perceptual experiences that does not vary even when the actual sensory elements change. In other words, if we look at an apple we see a round red fruit. If you take the apple away, blindfold the same person and let them smell the apple they will still see the same apple; despite the fact that the sensory data has changed. Perception of a stimulus should produce two successive lines. No matter how hard scientists tried to perceive two exposures of light, the reality was that single line motion persisted. The whole was different from the sum of the parts and this negates Titchener’s theory of perception.

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