Wilhelm Wundt: Biography, Facts & Quotes

Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

How did one man turn psychology from a philosophy into a science? In this lesson, we'll examine Wilhelm Wundt, the founder of experimental psychology and a major figure in the field.

Wilhelm Wundt

You've probably heard of some famous psychologists, like Sigmund Freud, but you might not have heard of one of the most influential psychologists of all time, Wilhelm Wundt.

Wundt, whose name is pronounced VIL-helm VOO-nt, is known as the father of experimental psychology. He helped to shape the idea of psychology as a science. Even today, almost 100 years after his death, psychologists all over the world are doing research studies into how people think, feel, and behave. All of those psychologists owe a debt to Wilhelm Wundt.

To help understand who Wundt was and what he contributed to the world of psychology, let's take a closer look at his life and career, with some quotes from him along the way.


Based on his name, you might already have guessed that Wundt was not from America. He was born in 1832 in Germany and was the son of a Lutheran minister. As he once wrote, ''From the standpoint of observation, then, we must regard it as a highly probable hypothesis that the beginnings of the mental life date from as far back as the beginnings of life at large.'' In other words, as an adult, Wundt believed that even babies and children think about things, just as adults do. Perhaps his childhood influenced his own thinking.

Wilhelm Wundt
Wilhelm Wundt

Wundt didn't follow his father's footsteps, though. Instead, he studied medicine and went on to teach physiology. He married a woman named Sophie in 1872, and they had three children: two daughters and a son.

Then, in 1875, he got a job that would not only change his life but have a major influence on the entire field of psychology. That job was a teaching position at the University of Leipzig in Germany. It was there that Wundt did something that no one else had done before: he established the first psychology lab.

Wundt continued teaching and doing research for many years and eventually died in 1920. But his legacy lives on beyond him.

Contributions to Psychology

What exactly is that legacy? Well, as we mentioned, he founded the first psychology lab. This happened in 1879 at the University of Leipzig. This was a big deal because before that, psychology wasn't really treated as a science. No one did psychological experiments or tried to understand how the mind worked. But Wundt decided that he wanted to apply experimental methods from the physical sciences to the philosophy of the mind.

In his own words: ''The aid of the experimental method becomes indispensable whenever the problem set is the analysis of transient and impermanent phenomena, and not merely the observation of persistent and relatively constant objects.'' In other words, the experimental method (which at that point had only been used in the physical sciences) can be particularly helpful with things that change. And what changes more than human thoughts and feelings? It makes sense that Wundt wanted to apply science to psychology, but at the time, it was revolutionary.

Of course, even science has its limits, which Wundt recognized. He wrote, ''There are other sources of psychological knowledge, which become accessible at the very point where the experimental method fails us.'' In other words, the experimental method alone can't get to the very heart of who we are or how we think.

How do we think? Well, that depends on the person. According to Wundt, ''The distinguishing characteristics of mind are of a subjective sort; we know them only from the contents of our own consciousness.'' In other words, everyone thinks differently.

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