Art + Introspection in Psychology

Brief history of Introspective Psychology

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Q: When and how was Introspective Psychology born? How did it develop?

Here we give some information about the origin and evolution of psychology. Later on, in a next page, we will describe the collaboration between Art, Psychology and Introspection; we will also show how these are valid tools to regain Emotional Well-being.

For further information on: Psychology - from the origins to Titchener click here

Psychology – from the origins to Wundt

Early in the 16th century, the German Lutheran humanist Philipp Melanchthon was using the term “psychology”.  But Plato, Aristotle and many other philosophers had already spoken about the psyche considered as soul, vital breath, immaterial part of the human being.

Over the centuries, the objects and methods of psychology have been manifold. They also gave rise to contrasts among scholars, starting with the problem which occurred in the mid-nineteenth century in full scientific positivism, whether psychology could be a science. Scientific rigor, that is common to mathematics and the sciences of nature, becomes more and more important, both in the methodological premises and in the experimental situations of psychology.

Kant – the empirical doctrine of the soul

“Kant inheriting and continuing the criticism of the English empiricists on the possibility of a philosophical or rational psychology, with a priori-deductive character, had also denied the possibility of an empirical psychology. He resolved the latter into a descriptive anthropology, excluded from the realm of true sciences, because of a listing and classifying nature. In the ‘Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaft’ (‘Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science’, 1786), Kant claimed that the empirical doctrine of the soul must always remain far from being considered a natural science, worthy of this name, (…) since mathematics is not applicable to the phenomena of the inner sense and their laws.”

Ludovico Geymonat; Storia del Pensiero Filosofico e Scientifico, VI – Dall’Ottocento al Novecento, Capitolo secondo: La Nascita della Psicologia Scientifica by Franca Meotti.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the first psychological schools grew up. Their primary interests were the neurology and physiology of the nervous system. The first affirmation of psychology as an autonomous discipline, with its own object and methods and its own quantitative measuring instruments, dates back to 1879, with the Laboratory of Experimental Psychology of Leipzig, founded by Wilhelm Wundt.

Wilhelm Wundt (Wikipedia image). Important figure in the History of Introspective Psychology

Wundt’s method of introspection

The German psychologist Wundt introduced an introspection method. It based on the descriptive study of the sensations that the experimental subject perceived in successive phases.

This subject received an external stimulus that the psychologist could control. Then the subject had to describe the sensory processes perceived with meticulous care.

Wundt found important to study the elementary functions of mind (such as sensation and perception) scientifically. This to give reliability and authority to Psychology.

Wundt’s method of introspection was much criticized by many schools of thought. Detractors considered this method inappropriate for the study of unconscious processes (which they did not consider as a subject of psychological research). They found it unable to grasp the higher psychic processes, because it reports not what happens, but how the subject thinks things happen.

Because of this consideration, Wundt gave up this method, and adhered to the positivistic paradigm. He preferred to look for a new, more objective, measurable and standardizable experimental method.


Titchener’s Experimental Introspectionism

By author died more than 70 years ago -, Public Domain,
Edward Titchener, a promotere of Introspective Psychology. (Photo By author died more than 70 years ago –, Public Domain,

Edward Bradford Titchener, an exponent of structuralism and disciple of Wundt, continued to value Introspection. He affirmed that introspection is the best method for a study of the mind.

Titchener considers that ego and Self are in a dimension that cannot undergo experimental investigation; they are therefore extraneous to scientific psychology. The purpose of psychological investigation is to describe the contents of consciousness and to highlight the laws and patterns that govern their combination and succession.

“The main tool Titchener used to determine the different components of consciousness was introspection. Titchener writes in his Systematic Psychology: ’The state of consciousness which is to be the matter of psychology … can become an object of immediate knowledge only through introspection or self-awareness.’

and in his book An Outline of Psychology: ‘‘…within the sphere of psychology, introspection is the final and only court of appeal, that psychological evidence cannot be other than introspective evidence.’” (psychology)

So, from 1879 to 1905, the introspective method in Psychology survived, despite many vicissitudes and conflicts between scholars.


For further information on: Rome Congress and End of Introspective Method. click here

End of Introspection in Psychology.

The 5th International Psychology Congress (Rome, April 1905) decreed the end of Introspection and Intuition in psychological matters. This limited Psychology to a scientific perspective that would not always make it more effective and curative. How much would this perspective contribute to the increase of inner well-being?

Below, I report the closing session of Congress, which mandated the abandonment of introspection:




Under the presidency of Professor Giuseppe Sergi.

5th International Psychology Congress.


April 30th, two o’clock p.m.

All the Honorary Congress Presidents elected at the inaugural session shall preside.

Professor G. Sergi.


Rome Congress’ closing speech

Many believe that a Congress can and should solve all the problems of science, and if they do not see this result, they think Congresses are useless. This disappointment is perhaps even greater in a Congress like ours, where some expect to find a solution to the problems of the soul, to scatter the shadows that surround them, to clear doubts about human destiny. Yet this time we can calmly face the judgment about the results obtained, which are not, nor should be the solutions to these problems. Two tendencies and two methods were clear both here in the Congress and outside it, among thinkers and observers of the problems of the human psyche. Well, we can say that the direction given to Psychology studies by this Congress is clear and decisive, despite appearances to the contrary.

Directives of the International Psychology Congress

We have recognized that the observation of phenomena which involve psychological problems can no longer be empirical, but must be scientific and methodical, and also experimental, with precision instruments as in other experimental sciences.

This is a success of unquestionable value.

The scientists who intervened here, according to their different personal studies, have brought scientific contributions of great value and high knowledge that we could considered gained in science: Thus, they have given a right direction to the way to reach truth in the manifestations of the human psyche

Psychology, which has become a science with the contribution of many other sciences from which it is inseparable, will obtain even more universal results; writers and artists, who until now have worked empirically and by intuition alone, will benefit from it.

A greeting and a thank you to all those who took part in the Congress and especially to the foreigners who brought the results of their studies to Italy; a thank you also to Professor Sante De Sanctis, who has contributed so much with his work to the success of the Congress.



Current situation of Introspective Psychology

Revival of inner research in Psychology

Why remove a tool that proves to be effective – only because mandated by the Congress of Rome in 1905?

We know it doesn’t follow the rational scientific dictates and protocol parameters. But our goal is to bring back to light a deep inner research, aiming at emotional well-being. Based on results relating to people’s quality of life, the introspective method in psychology shows its effectiveness. I’ve always wondered how it is possible to move in the emotional world with rational tools – is this the most effective way to deal with our inside?

Emotions, even if fleeting and intangible, are very powerful; the most eminent psychotherapeutic schools attest that they are often at the origin of existential illnesses.

Introspection goes beyond the limits of rationality. It’s just when we choose to enter the intuitive world that flashes of light shine in the dark of our malaise.

Introspective Research, Introspective Art and inner well-being

Painting uses the language of emotions and sensations, a language that acts in a time different from that of words and reasoning. We should accept its natural flow without inserting the mind. Entering this state of being requires preparation and, in the beginning, silent listening and a lot of confidence in our feeling. In this way art can become a useful tool of introspection; it helps to identify ignored parts of ourselves, censored by rational judgments.

If we have an intuitive contact with the colors and symbols of a painting, something opens up in us; we can reach hidden parts of subconscious… It becomes easier to enter these spaces – even if we identify with that part of us that needs to rationalize or find a logical meaning. But we know from experience that understanding and solving emotional malaise is not a matter of rationality. Why do we entrust it with bringing us to emotional well-being?

I use Introspective Art in my research because I consider it a catalyst for deep emotional dynamics.

Introspective Art focuses attention on what is inside us, in the subconscious. It brings it to light by depicting it in a painting. It’s an art directly inspired by the unconscious of the artist to communicate with the unconscious of other people. Transmission from unconscious to unconscious is not mediated by rationality. It passes through the observer’s defenses, establishing a direct communication between her and the painting.

Open communication makes it easier to release tensions; and then you can start introspection to achieve greater emotional well-being.

How Introspective Art works

The probable (and facilitated) opening prepares and simplifies the next steps of the search. We should:

  • analyze what is beyond the opening
  • make the most of the opening time
  • concentrate on the collection and interpretation of data, instead of striving to overcome resistances
  • understand how the mind perceives and processes visual inputs, based on experience.

This happens when people look at a painting of Introspective Art: it encourages them to reflect about what they are feeling, and to become aware of themselves.

Once the contact with the painting is over, people can consider what has emerged during the process: their own judgments, self-criticisms, and fears… Furthermore, they can dialogue with their own internal world recognizing the feelings/emotions that the painting has aroused.

The end point is greater internal integration, and a mitigation of the inner conflicts we all experience. This leads to greater well-being and an increase in the quality of life.

Antonella Giannini