Structuralism and Functionalism in Early Formal Psychology

How would you distinguish between structuralism and functionalism in early formal psychology? What are some of the similarities between them? What are some of the differences between them?

When I study opposing views in psychology I always try to boil them down into “ends” and “means”. I don’t really know why. I guess this type of verbiage conforms to my way of thinking. At any rate, structuralism seems to advocate that the emphasis should be put on the means, the basic elements of consciousness, in order to understand the end, human behavior. I would have to agree with Titchener that just as in anatomy and physiology, it is impossible to understand the organism without first considering its parts. In the same way, even if the sum of its parts is not equal to the whole that does not negate the study of the parts. No, we call this an inequality in mathematics and inequalities are a necessary evil, unfortunately. For instance, to use Mills’ example, the brick (B) plus the mortar (M) is equal to the wall (B + M = W) and the walls (W) plus the foundation (F) plus the roof (R) is equal to the house (H), hence W+F+R=H. Now the functionalist would maintain that W+F+R<H because the house as an idea cannot simply be reduced to simpler ideas, that the idea of a house is greater than its subsequent parts. For the functionalist, the end of human behavior is a means in and of itself. Human behavior cannot be segmented into basic conscious elements but rather occupies an evolutionary function. The structuralist is occupied with the parts of consciousness while the functionalist is concerned with the purpose of conscious within the larger picture of evolutionary adaptation.


Goodwin, C. J. (2005). A history of modern psychology (2 nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.


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