Structuralism vs. Functionalism: What’s Their Influence on Psychology

When thinking about structuralism vs. functionalism, psychologists usually think of two of the oldest schools and the argument over how to explain human behavior and examine the mind. This debate first began when psychology was formed as a discipline separate from philosophy.

While many critics developed different theories, it’s impossible to deny that both functionalism and structuralism made significant contributions to modern psychology.

Learn in This Article

  • What Is Structuralism
    • Strengths of Structuralism
    • Criticism of Structuralism
  • What Is Functionalism
    • Strengths of Functionalism
    • Criticism of Functionalism
  • Structuralism vs. Functionalism: What’s the Difference
  • Similarities Between Structuralism and Functionalism
  • Examples of Structuralism and Functionalism in Psychology
  • Influence of Structuralism and Functionalism in Psychology

What Is Structuralism

In order to define structuralism in psychology, we should go back to its early days. Structuralism was founded by Wilhelm Wundt, who is often considered to be the father of psychology.

Wundt believed that the mind could be broken down into its different parts without having to sacrifice any of its properties. He also argued that the best way to understand the mind was to study it scientifically, using careful observation, measurement, and introspection.

Overall, structuralism claims that the structure of conscious experience may be deduced by looking at essential parts of ideas and feelings.

Strengths of Structuralism

When thinking about structuralism in psychology, there are some strengths you shouldn’t overlook. For instance, people can understand human perception better through their five senses: touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing.

Criticism of Structuralism

On the downside, structuralism relies heavily on introspection, which is a method of looking inward and observing one’s thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, this could be a potentially subjective process as people experience different sensations.

Moreover, structuralism only looks at behavior from a static point of view. It doesn’t take into account how behavior changes over time.

What Is Functionalism

Functionalism is a school of thought inspired by Darwin’s theory of evolution that can be traced back to the 19th century. Founded by the American psychologist William James, functionalism was born as a reaction to structuralism.

All in all, functionalism is defined as the mental processing that goes into thinking and interpreting one’s awareness and reality. These brain processes guide human conduct and assist humans in adapting and changing their behavior in response to their surroundings.

Strengths of Functionalism

A considerable advantage of functionalism takes into account the dynamic nature of behavior. Unlike structuralism, functionalism recognizes that behavior changes over time and is often adaptive. On top of that, functionalism is more concerned with the real-world applications of psychology.

Criticism of Functionalism

Although functionalism has been used to this day, there are a few downsides worth discussing.

Many critics argue that functionalism fails to consider past experiences and doesn’t always provide a clear explanation for why certain behaviors occur.

Structuralism vs. Functionalism: What’s the Difference

As already mentioned earlier, functionalism and structuralism are two of the most influential schools of thought in psychology. But how different are they from one another?

Structuralism was a philosophy that shaped psychology as a separate subject and affected the development of experimental psychology. On the other hand, functionalism arose as a critique of structuralism.

The major distinction between structuralism vs. functionalism in psychology may be seen in their main focus of study. Structuralism is a branch of psychology that analyzes the human mind and the fundamental units that may be found through introspection. Functionalism, however, claims that studying components of behavior and the adaptation of the human mind to different environments is vital.

Similarities Between Structuralism and Functionalism

Although structuralism and functionalism are opposite theories, they share a few similarities.

Both perspectives remark on the importance of the mind in shaping behavior. Additionally, structuralism and functionalism place emphasis on the role of instincts and drives in human behavior. Finally, both view society as a system made up of interrelated parts.

Examples of Structuralism and Functionalism in Psychology

Now that we have a good grasp of functionalism and structuralism, we can illustrate some examples in psychology.

One example of structuralism is seen in Wundt’s work on the structure of the mind. He believed that the mind could be broken down into smaller parts, and he used introspection to study the basic elements of consciousness. Another giant of psychology, Freud, analyzed the structure of the psyche. He believed that the mind was made up of three parts: the id, ego, and superego.

On the other hand, we can see functionalism in psychology in William James’s work on the functions of consciousness. According to his research, consciousness served a number of important functions, including helping people adapt to the surrounding environment.

Influence of Structuralism and Functionalism in Psychology

Structuralism and functionalism have both had a lasting effect on psychology. Structuralism was the first school of thought in psychology, and it laid the foundation for subsequent theories, including Freud’s work on psychoanalysis.

Meanwhile, functionalism focused on the real-world applications of psychology, and it helped establish the field of behaviorism. Additionally, functionalism inspired many of the scientific methods used in psychology to this day.

Structuralism vs. Functionalism: Key Takeaways

The long-standing debate between structuralism and functionalism has been alive and kicking for centuries. And, like all good debates, there are pros and cons to each perspective.

Structuralists believe that the key to understanding the human psyche is to analyze the basic components of the mind. They argue that the mind can be broken down into smaller parts that can be studied separately. On the other hand, functionalists believe that psychologists should focus on the function or purpose of consciousness rather than its structure.

Frequently Asked Questions

How are functionalism and structuralism alike?

Functionalism and structuralism are alike in many ways. Both perspectives emphasize the importance of understanding how the parts of a system work together to produce observed behaviors. Additionally, both approaches focus on patterns and relationships rather than individual elements.
Ultimately, both functionalism and structuralism brought major contributions to our understanding of the mind and behavior.

Who established structuralism?

Although Wilhelm Wundt first established structuralism, it was his student Edward B. Titchener who shaped the term as we know it today. Although Titchener is often credited with establishing structuralism and bringing the concepts to America, Wundt was the one who first proposed them.