Wilhelm Wundt

William Wundt

Back in my day, this beard was hot!!!

Psychology as we know it started on a December day in 1879, in a small room on the third floor of a shabby building at Germany’s University of Leipzig. There, two young men were helping a long-faced, austere, middle-aged professor, Wilhelm Wundt, create an experimental apparatus.

Their machine measured the time lag between people’s hearing a ball hit a platform and their pressing a telegraph key. Later, the researchers compared this lag to the time required for slightly more complex tasks. Curiously, people responded in about one-tenth of a second when asked to press the key as soon as the sound occurred—and in about two-tenths of a second when asked to press the key as soon as they were aware of perceiving the sound. Wundt was seeking to measure “atoms of the mind”—the fastest and simplest mental processes.

Thus began what many consider psychology’s first experiment, launching the first psychology laboratory, staffed by Wundt and psychology’s first graduate students.