Wilhelm Wundt was a 19th century psychologist who established the discipline of experimental psychology and is considered to be one of the fathers of psychology. 

Professional Life

Wilhelm Wundt was born in Baden, Germany on August 16, 1832, to a Lutheran minister and his wife. Wundt studied medicine at the University of Tubingen for one year, but his academic performance was poor. After the death of his father, Wundt excelled academically at the University of Heidelberg, where he received his MD in 1855. Wundt continued studying at the University of Berlin after graduation.

In 1857, Wundt accepted a position as a lecturer at the University of Heidelberg, where he also worked as a lab assistant to Hermann Helmholtz, a physiologist. Wundt taught the first scientific psychology course beginning in 1862. That same year, he introduced the discipline of experimental psychology in the book Contributions to the Theory of Sensory Perception. In 1864, Wundt advanced to assistant professor of physiology, and he began to explore neuropsychology.

Wundt’s 1874 book, Principles of Physiological Psychology, expanded on his experimental psychology theories, and in 1875, Wundt accepted the position of professor of philosophy at the University of Leipzig. Wundt created the first psychological research journal, Philosophical Studies, in 1881. He was a prolific writer, publishing numerous articles and books. Principles of Physiological Psychology, for example, is considered a classic in the field.  

Contribution to Psychology

Wundt's primary contribution to psychology was his push to see the field recognized as a separate discipline. Prior to Wundt's work, psychology was a discipline that was typically incorporated into medicine or the life sciences. Wundt founded the first psychology research laboratory while at the University of Leipzig, marking the transition of psychology as a separate discipline. He placed a strong emphasis on ensuring psychology remained scientific, often setting up detailed, unique experiments to test psychological theories.

Wundt argued that a primary goal of psychology should be to understand and analyze consciousness. His experimental psychology laboratory was created to research spiritual theories, examine varying abnormal behaviors, and identify and isolate specific mental disorders. Paving the way for the acceptance of psychology as a distinct science, Wundt’s laboratory became a model for other psychology laboratories around the world. More than one hundred similar laboratories were in operation by 1900.

Wundt was also interested in linguistics and the inner workings of the human brain. He identified an optical illusion now known as the Wundt Illusion. In the illusion, two straight lines positioned in front of a series of angled lines appear to bend.

Wundt mentored more than 100 graduate students in psychology, including several who became well-known psychologists, including Ottmar Dittrich, James McKeen Catell, G. Stanley Hall, Walter Dill Scott, and Charles Spearman. Upon his death, many of Wundt's students began referring to his approach to the field as holistic psychology because of Wundt's emphasis on developing novel experiments and trying several different approaches to get to the bottom of any single psychological puzzle. In recognition of the contributions made to the emerging field of psychology by Wundt and William James, the founder of American psychology, the American Psychological Association created the “Wilhelm Wundt-William James Award for Exceptional Contributions to Trans-Atlantic Psychology.”


  1. Fancher, Raymond. Wilhelm Max Wundt. (2006). Europe 1789-1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of Industry and Empire. Retrieved from http://www.gale.cengage.com/InContext/bio.htm
  2. Wilhelm Wundt. (2006). World of Health. Retrieved from http://www.gale.cengage.com/InContext/bio.htm