Structuralism and My Main Man EBT
Updated: Jan 5, 2020
When I study psychology, I like to act as if each psychologist that I study is a close friend of mine. I’ve found that doing so makes it easier for me to navigate the often complicated “who’s who” of the psych world and remember the distinctions between similar-sounding concepts, such as classical and operant conditioning. For instance, let me show you how I like to look at structuralism, an early psychological concept studied by Edward Bradford Titchener— or, as I affectionately call him, “my main man EBT.”
EBT was a Cornell University professor in the 1890s who wanted to look into the structure of the mind. (If it helps you picture him, our main man had a big beard and was born in England, so he probably had a pretty cool accent.) While other psychologists wanted to study consciousness or speculate about the reason that we act the way we do, EBT was more interested in immediate mental experience, or the “here and now” of our thoughts. EBT believed that our thoughts could be broken down into a collection of sensations, or signals picked up using our five basic senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste).
Picture this: you’re spending an afternoon at the movies with EBT, and he hands you a tray of nachos. Of course, before feeling grateful to have such a great friend or excited to eat those cheese-laden chips, you would immediately identify that what he has handed you are nachos. Our main man would tell you that your thought is a deduction based off of the sensations that your brain is receiving. The immediate mental experience of “nachos” is made up of the sight of the velvety orange cheese dribbling down the lightly browned chips, the sound of cracking tortilla as the chips rustle and break against the plastic tray, and the smell of cheddar. All of these sensations come together at once in your brain and spark that single, glorious thought: these are nachos.
Over the course of his career, Edward Bradford Titchener identified that thoughts are comprised of over 40,000 sensations, the majority of which are sounds and sights. He believed that studying psychology relied on introspection, the process of looking inward and reporting the part of one’s sensory experience. However, EBT’s work has been largely criticised because of introspection’s lack of reliability. Any data gathered from introspection is highly subjective, and often times our brains are deceived by information we receive or memories we recall. As the study of psychology advanced, scientists called for more objective ways to measure our thinking.
Cheer up, EBT! You're still our main man!
Thinking about nachos and seeing a movie with EBT are much more memorable and relatable than trying to remember “Titchner/structuralism/introspection” from an AP Psychology outline. Try it next time when you study! Don't just memorize Freud and his psychoanalytic perspective or Pavlov and his classical conditioning; instead, ask your friend Siggie to help figure out the meaning behind that crazy dream last night and ask your buddy Ivan why your dog always drools on the kitchen floor when you walk by his food bowl.
Psychology is the study of us— be a part of the story!