PSYC85H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 4: Johann Friedrich Herbart, Apperception, Educational Psychology
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C85: History of Psychology
Chapter 4: The 19th c. Transformation of Psychology
At the beginning of the 19th c., many believed with Kant, that psychology could never be a science= however by the end of
the century, this became a possibility.
Green, Shore and Teo who called this the ‘transformation of psychology’, noted the importance of understanding the
various processes by which a more scientific approach to psychology came about:
•J.K Herbart’s attempt to cast a psychological theory in purely mathematical terms; he was also one of the
first to apply psychology to practical problems, by showing how this psychology implied a particular approach to
•G.T. Fechner’s psychophysics which hypothesized a mathematically precise relation between the stimulus
values and sensation that could be tested by means of experimental data
oPsychophysics- experimental study of the relation between stimulus magnitudes and their corresponding
•Scientific work on the psychophysiologigy of perception led to important theories of colour vision
•The study of brain injuries by Paul Broca and others suggested that particular functions could be localized
in specific areas of the brain
•Finally through the efforts of Francis Galton and Herbert Spencer, some of the more controversial
implications of the theory of evolution were drawn out.
He is often regarded as one of the earliest, if not first mathematical psychologists. He succeeded to Kant’s position at the
University of Konigsberg, but he differed from him by believing that mathematics was applicable to psychological events.
Regarding the threshold concept, Herbart was interested not only in what went on above the threshold of consciousness, but
also in what went on below the threshold of consciousness.
•Threshold of consciousness- the point below which events are unconscious and, under the right
circumstances, can become conscious.
•Events below the threshold of consciousness were unconscious, and under the right circumstances, could
become conscious; he tried to show mathematically that these relationships were true.
Herbart’s psychology rests on the assumption that all mental life is the ‘result of the action and interaction of elementary
•By elementary ideas he meant ‘entirely simple concepts or sensations – e.g. red, blue, sour, sweet etc’
•He suggested that ideas ma y be opposed to one another and act like forces upon each other.
•Such inconsistent ideas will tend to reduce the intensity with which each one is experienced.
oFor example, as I am writing this, all my thoughts tend to be connected to Herbart’s psychology. Any other
thoughts, such as whether the Leafs will ever win a Stanley Cup again, tend to be suppressed by my preoccupation
•In general, ideas vary in intensity or clarity
Some ideas facilitate each other, while other ideas inhibit each other.
•The process of inhibition can be put into mathematical terms; his idea is that intensity can be quantified,
and this is important because if this is true, a mathematical treatment of mental life becomes possible.
•Example: the relationship between two ideas, A and B of which A is stronger. Supporse that the two ideas
are inconsistent with one another and therefore inhibit each other. Obviously, A will inhibit B more than B will
inhibit A because A is the stronger of the two = this means that A is experiences with a greater intensity than B.
Here is the mathematical equation to see how much B is inhibited by its competition with A, the greater the
difference in strength between A and B, the more A will inhibit B. But, lets introduce a new variable called I, which
is the amount by which each idea is weakened as a result o its competition with one another. (in other words, A will
cause B to become less intense by a quantity equal to I, the more intense A is in relation to B, the greater I will be):
(A+B) = B the greater A is in relation to the sum of A and B, then the greater I is relative to B.
(A x B)
(A + B) = I if we multiply both sides of the equation we get this
(A+B) = B – I which simplifies to this.
*** this equation is significant because it shows that no matter how much B is inhibited by A, it will never be less than 0. A
and B began as positive quantities and the ratio of b^2/(A+B) must be a positive quantity as well.
Herbart interpreted this to mean that one idea can never push another completely out of awareness, and ideas above the
threshold of awareness never reach a state of complete balance, or equilibrium.
•His ideas suggested that two or more ideas acting together could drive another idea below the threshold of
oThus consciousness would tend to consist of those ideas that facilitate each other, while inconsistent ideas
would tend to be below threshold.
oHe used the term apperceptive mass to refer to the set of ideas that assimilates ideas consistent with it and
rejects ideas inconsistent with it.
He believed that ‘all concepts strive against suppression, and certainly submit to no more of it than is absolutely necessary.’
= source of emotions
His psychology, then, is very dynamic, with the contents of consciousness in constant flux and ideas passing back and forth
across the threshold of consciousness.
The process of apperception was central to Herbart’s psychology.
•Apperception- 1. the process by which we understand a particular idea in relation to other ideas. 2. the
process whereby we organize and make sense out of our experience.
•The concept of apperception originated with Leibniz, who used it to refer to the process by which the mind
becomes fully aware of ideas.
•Oxford English Dictionary describes it “any act or process by which the mind unites and assimilates a
particular idea (especially a newly presented one) to a larger set or mass of ideas (already possess), so as to
comprehend it as part of the whole.”
oNo idea is meaningful by itself; rather, it is understood in relation to the other ideas that make up the
oThus, it is always possible for an idea to be incomprehensible at first but to become understandable later on.
That is why children come to understand better the precepts of their parents when they themselves become
Herbart’s Influence on Educational Psychology
Herbart believed that ‘education’s primary mission is to instil in the young that values held dear by the custodians of
established social order, to believe, in short, in all things that law – abiding citizens of Christendom believe in, from truth
and justice to service, duty, good works, and a healthy body and mind. Not knowledge, but character and social morality,
should be the end of education”
•These goals of education could be achieved through the application of his psychological theory to the
Chapter 4: the 19th c. transformation of psychology. At the beginning of the 19th c. , many believed with kant, that psychology could never be a science= however by the end of the century, this became a possibility. Green, shore and teo who called this the transformation of psychology", noted the importance of understanding the various processes by which a more scientific approach to psychology came about: J. k herbart"s attempt to cast a psychological theory in purely mathematical terms; he was also one of the first to apply psychology to practical problems, by showing how this psychology implied a particular approach to educaton. Fechner"s psychophysics which hypothesized a mathematically precise relation between the stimulus values and sensation that could be tested by means of experimental data o. Psychophysics- experimental study of the relation between stimulus magnitudes and their corresponding sensations. Scientific work on the psychophysiologigy of perception led to important theories of colour vision.