The origins of psychology.

It is important students gain a secure understanding of the concept of psychology as a science, not only because it is named on the specification but because it can really help students develop their evaluation of research. When I ask my students ‘what is science?’ they often respond with a list of scientific subjects rather than spotting characteristics they have in common.

Please note, a version of a lesson has been included should you wish to use/edit/amend it.

Starter ideas

Slide 2 of the powerpoint displays a very brief outline of Wilhelm Wundt. Three words are shown in blue – psychologist, scientific and experimental conditions. Using think, pair, share format students initially create their own definitions of these three words. They then share these with a friend before sharing with the class. During pairing or sharing encourage students to make any amendments or additions to their original definitions. These definitions will be revisited at the end of the lesson.

Main activity ideas

Introspection (slide 3). Introduce Introspection to the class. You could then provide students with an opportunity to carry out introspection in response to a visual stimulus or tone. Explain to students that introspection is also known as experimental self-observation and to carry it out they need to be focused in the stimuli they are about to experience. During exposure to the stimuli students need to:

– say anything that goes through their mind, even if the thoughts seem irrelevant
– keep talking as continuously as possible, even if this isn’t in full sentences
– do not hesitate to utter single words of short phrases.

Following this quickly question the class to gather their views on how useful they feel introspection is in understanding the human mind. You could then share with them that later on Wundt came to realise that higher mental processes such as learning and language could not be successfully studied using introspection. It may also be worth thinking about the tools that were available to Wundt compared to psychologists today, for example brain imaging.

This activity could be followed by setting students a reading activity using page 124 of the Complete Companion Year 1 and AS Student Book and completing the Research Methods questions, also on page 124.

Alternatively students could complete the Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) handout. Possible answers to the questions on this handout can be found on page 124-5 of the Complete Companion. The stretch question challenges students to consider their understanding of introspection, for example, what is being looked into? By who? It is highly unlikely students will be asked to create introspection instructions (Q2.) or consider the Latin root of the term (stretch) in an exam but considering these questions helps students consolidate their understanding of the technique.
Slide 3 (slide 3) contains a further stretch question asking students to consider how they would visually represent the process on introspection. Creating an image reinforces the key aspects of the technique and can provide a visual cue to aid revision.

Psychology as a Science, Slide 4, (slide 4) introduces key concepts of empiricism and the scientific method. You may wish to talk through this information with your students or set a reading activity (page 124 of Complete Companion). Following this challenge the students to explain why Wilhelm Wundt’s Introspection technique could be considered scientific.

You could set a homework based on the scientific method – students have to find one research study they have previously studied and identify elements of the scientific method. For example, Ainsworth’s Strange Situation has an orderly method and can be replicated. Alternatively handout 96 of the Teacher’s Companion provides a summarising activity, also available on Kerboodle.


The final slide, Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920,) (slide 5) revisits the definitions students created at the beginning of the lesson. Using what they now know and understand, students rework their definitions. For example, definitions of ‘psychologist’ may now include notions of remaining objective and continual revising of theories.

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