Lecturer's Précis - Wundt (1902)

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First published online 10:38 GMT 11th March 2002, Copyright Derek J. Smith (Chartered Engineer). This version [2.1 - link to graphics] 09:00 BST 8th July 2018


Wundt's "Schematic Representation"

Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) trained originally as a physician, but gradually specialised in physiological psychology. He wrote a major textbook on this subject in 1873/1874, and founded the first European experimental psychology laboratory at the University of Leipzig in 1875. Here, from a 1910 translation of his textbook, is his attempt to provide what he called a "schematic representation" of the physiological layout of the nervous system:

Wundt (1902): In his chapter entitled "The Physiological Function of the Central Parts", Wundt reviewed Lichtheim's (1885) diagram, and criticised it for oversimplifying the problem of functional localisation. In an attempt to demonstrate how complex the cognitive system actually was, Wundt produced the diagram shown below. In it, he shows visual information ascending to the left (heavy red arrows), auditory information ascending to the right (heavy blue arrows), and a common motor pathway descending centrally (heavy grey arrow). Higher conscious processing takes place in an "Apperception Centre" (green, top centre). Wundt defines apperception as "a psychological process in which, on the objective side [certain contents become] clear in consciousness and, on the subjective, certain feelings arise ....." (Wundt, 1910:316; italics original), and saw it as "the one elementary process indispensable to any sort of 'manifestation of intelligence', and, indeed, to the higher mental functions at large" (ibid, p318). He also used the term "centre" with the explicit reservation that this should not be taken as implying a neat physical localisation. The Motor Centre (green, central) is responsible for initiating and maintaining physical behaviour, but is assisted in this by four associated "Intermediate" centres (yellow). Additional centrifugal information passes out to the Visual Centre and Auditory Centre via the Descending Inhibitory Pathways (top left/top right). Note that the diagram is actually a double omega, a left-and-central visual omega, and a mirror-imaged right-and-central auditory omega. Note that Wundt's preoccupation with language processing at this point in the proceedings leads him to omit the haptic and chemical senses from the diagram, which means, in turn, that the sensory-motor spinal reflexes are also not shown.

It is unclear how much Wundt may have been influenced by the earlier work of Kussmaul (1878), whose diagram is similar in some respects.

If this diagram fails to load automatically, it may be accessed separately at



Redrawn from a black and white original in Wundt (1910:318; Figure 105). This version Copyright © 2002, Derek J. Smith.



Wundt, W. (1910). Principles of Physiological Psychology (Volume 1, 2nd Edition). London: Swan Sonnenschein. [This is the Titchener translation of Wundt's work, first published in English in 1904, from a 1902 German 5th edition. This explains why we refer to this extract from Wundt (1910) as his "1902 diagram". The German first edition was dated 1874, but we have not yet been able to establish where in the five German editions the figure in question first appeared.]