Edward Bradford Titchener

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Edward Bradford Titchener

The Anglo-American psychologist Edward Bradford Titchener (1867-1927) was the head of the structural school of psychology.

Edward Titchener was born on Jan. 11, 1867, in Chichester, England. The family was old and distinguished, but there was little wealth. By scholarship, Titchener entered Malvern College, a top Anglican preparatory school, and demonstrated characteristic drive and excellence. One year, when school awards were presented by the visiting American poet James Russell Lowell, Titchener was called so often that Lowell remarked, "Mr. Titchener, I am tired of seeing your face."

The family intended Titchener for the Anglican clergy, but his interests were not in religion. In 1885 he entered Brasenose College, Oxford, on a classics scholarship but soon turned to a study of biology and then comparative psychology. He met Sir John Scott Burdon-Sanderson, one of England's first experimental biologists, and two great exponents of Darwinism, T. H. Huxley and John George Romanes. Titchener remained interested in comparative psychology, but there was not enough structure or rigor in the subject matter to satisfy him.

A few years earlier Wilhelm Wundt in Leipzig had founded psychology as a systematic and experimental science of the human mind. Burdon-Sanderson suggested that Titchener do his graduate work there in the "new psychology." With Wundt, Titchener found the kind of study he had been seeking, and this analytic study of human experience occupied him for the rest of his life.

After receiving his doctorate in 1892, Titchener accepted a position in the recently founded laboratory of psychology at Cornell University. He quickly rose to full professor and head of the department of psychology when psychology became independent from philosophy. To fill the void of textbooks in experimental psychology, he published his Outline of Psychology (1897) and his monumental four-volume Experimental Psychology (1901-1905). He was an inspiring speaker, and his lectures became legend among generations of Cornell students.

Titchener emphasized psychology as a science, in contrast to technology, desiring to understand the facts of experience with no particular notion of application. His structural school studied the world of experience in terms of the experiencing individual and explained experience in terms of the nervous system. The model for structuralism was chemistry, the task being to analyze the complex experiences of everyday life into their elemental components and then to attempt to understand the nature of the compounding. His primary tool was introspection, the systematic description of experience. Titchener's A Textbook of Psychology (1910) became the bible of the school.

On Aug. 3, 1927, Titchener died in Ithaca. Without him and his system as a point of reference, systematic psychology was thrown into chaos, and perhaps because of this the day of the general psychological system soon came to an end.

Further Reading

There is no definitive biography of Titchener. A good discussion, though short, is in Edwin G. Boring, Psychologist at Large (1961). □

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