‘Introspectionism’ and the mythical origins of scientific psychology

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According to the majority of the textbooks, the history of modern, scientific psychology can be tidily encapsulated in the following three stages. Scientific psychology began with a commitment to the study of mind, but based on the method of introspection. Watson rejected introspectionism as both unreliable and effete, and redefined psychology, instead, as the science of behaviour. The cognitive revolution, in turn, replaced the mind as the subject of study, and rejected both behaviourism and a reliance on introspection. This paper argues that all three stages of this history are largely mythical. Introspectionism was never a dominant movement within modern psychology, and the method of introspection never went away. Furthermore, this version of psychology’s history obscures some deep conceptual problems, not least surrounding the modern conception of “behaviour,” that continues to make the scientific study of consciousness seem so weird.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)634-654
Number of pages21
JournalConsciousness and Cognition
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2006


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