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What is Structuralism?

MVSAT 2024

Structuralism is widely regarded as the first school of thought in the field of psychology. It was founded by Wilhelm Wundt but was later on modernized and formally established by Edward Titchener, a student of Wundt. Titchener’s interpretations were often misinterpretations of his mentor’s original more holistic thoughts and beliefs.

Wundt’s Structuralism

While Titchner was the one to establish structuralism psychology as a school of thought, Wundt is regarded as the real founder of structuralism. He first stated the science of immediate experience which refers to the several complex perceptions of humans that can be observed with sensory information.


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Wundt’s primary theory was psychological voluntarism which dictated that our willpower can elevate our mind into a higher level of thinking and thought process. In Wundt’s paper, the characteristics of structuralism also contained the theory of human psychological consciousness and perception. He proposed that just like chemical elements like atoms, a human’s complex perceptual experience can be broken down into elementary blocks. He even stated that introspection or self-examination is the way to get information regarding one’s perception experience to break it into smaller elements. Wundt’s theory of structuralism pdf is available online - you can check it out to better understand his theories.

However, many of Wundt's theories were severely misinterpreted by Titchener when he brought Wundt's work with him to America. Such misinterpreted structuralism examples may be found online in some of Titchener’s translated papers. 

Titchener’s Structuralism 

In Titchener's study, the characteristics of structuralism included apperception, association, and voluntarism. He even went on to classify and discuss the various structures of mind just like the various classifications of nature. Titchener also believed that there was no place for unobservable events and speculations in the field of science - it all had to be studied from observable events.


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Titchener, like his mentor, used introspection to delve into the various parts of consciousness. He even has very strict rules regarding the analysis and reporting of introspection studies in structuralism psychology. This is because he believed that our mind has several experiences, all gathered from our whole life. Titchener’s structuralism PDF is available online.

Strength of Structuralism 

As we mentioned, structuralism is widely regarded as the first major school of thought in the field of psychology and it heavily influenced the growth and development of the field of experimental psychology.

Wundt’s characteristics of structuralism helped to establish psychology as a separate branch of science while making considerable contributions to the field of experimental psychology. On the other hand, Titchener’s slightly different version of structuralism lent a more secure base to the psychology field by being the first school of thought.

Criticisms of Structuralism 

Since structuralism is such an old concept, modern scientists and critics have found a lot of flaws in this school of thought. They argue that the experimental methods used by this school are too subjective when it comes to studying the mind structure. This even leads to unreliable results.

It was also heavily criticized because structuralism examples and experiments were never used and completely ignored important factors outside the theory of structuralism like one’s personality.

Structuralism PDF online by various research scholars contains in-depth details regarding the various places the theory went wrong. You can check them out for further details. 

Contemporary Structuralism and its Influence on Modern Psychology

While many regard structuralist theory as a thing of the past, many scientists and researchers are still trying to incorporate Titchener’s structuralism ideas by introducing more experimental and objective approaches. These approaches are being used mostly in cognitive psychology to help the measurement of conscious experience and deal mostly with the concepts of perceptions and sensations. Structuralism examples have been found in various research papers, used by various psychologists. It goes on to show that despite criticisms it has helped shape modern psychology profoundly. 

Difference Between Structuralism vs. Functionalism 

Another school of thought that individuals often confuse with the structuralist theory is functionalism. It was established as an alternative to structuralism and while both went on to be important influences on modern psychology have some major differences. 

  • Structuralism was all about breaking the mind’s structure apart into the tiniest fragments for deeper analysis. Functionalism, on the other hand, focused on finding out how different parts of our mind were working in harmony.

  • Structuralism focused on finding the capabilities of the various parts of our mind. Functionalism deals with observing how our mind functions when presented in different environments or situations.

  • The techniques used in structuralism include using introspection to help in the study of sensations and feelings. The technique used in functionalism included using more objective methods to study emotions and memories. 

Did you know?

  • Structuralism was first founded in Germany before it came to the United States and was established by Edward Titchener.

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FAQs on Structuralism

1.What is Structuralism in anthropology?

Structuralism in social anthropology and general anthropology refers to the production and reproduction of “meaning” in a culture with the help of different activities, phenomena, and different practices that act as a sign of signification. A structuralist theory studies various diverse activities including games, religious rituals, food preparation, non-literary and literary texts, and other modes of entertainment to unearth the various structures of a particular culture with the help of which meaning is produced and reproduced in that culture. 

For example, in the 1950s Levi-Strauss studied different cultural phenomena like kinship, mythology, and other linguistic-focused writings to unearth the fundamental structures of our mind, trying to find the production and reproduction of meaning.

2.How did the Prague School of Linguistics contribute to structuralism?

One of the most important contributions of the Prague School of Linguistics in the world of structuralism remains in phonemics. While everyone only concentrated on listing the different sounds and how they occurred in different languages, Prague school decided to tally them to decipher their relation. Their work became the base of structuralism in various fields including structuralism psychology later on.  For example, Prague school’s concept of structuralism heavily contributed to the work of Louis Hjelmslev from Denmark and J.R. Firth from the UK. In both their versions, the characteristics of structuralism and functional linguistics were deeply based on the Prague school’s work on analyzing sounds.

3.How did structuralist theory influence economics?

The concept and characteristics of structuralism have been found in the world of economics as well. The concept of structuralist economics emphasizes the importance of structural features while doing various economic analyses. Early structuralism models took into account both external and internal disequilibria in productive structures and how they affected the different dependent relationships between the developed world and the developing countries. This work was first started by the director of the ECLA or the Economic Commission for Latin America, Raul Prebish along with Celso Furtado, a Brazilian economist. They believed that distorted development and economic inequality were all a part of the structural features of the global economic system exchange.

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