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What is Introspection?

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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2016
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Introspection is self-observation, self-examination and self-reflection. It’s the opposite of extrospection which means looking outward. Introspection is studied and used in the profession of psychology, although not all psychologists agree as to its exact value therapeutically.

The idea is thought to date back to the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. He spent much of life being introspective as well as encouraging others to do so. Two of Socrates’ most well-known quotes are "know thyself" and "the unexamined life is not worth living."

German physiologist, philosopher and psychologist Wilhelm Wundt brought introspection into his field of experimental psychology. In 1879, he opened his Institut fur Experimentelle Psychologie, which was the first experimental psychology laboratory in the world. His introspective scientific approach focused on the workings of the mind through feelings and perceptions. Wundt asserted that emotion appears before cognitive thought.

Walter C. Varnum notes in his book Psychology in Everyday Life that psychologists before Wundt applied their own self-evaluation into the field of psychology. Wundt expanded introspective input into being more about the patients’ self-reflection than that of the psychologists. Varnum points out that, at least partly due to Wundt’s new introspective approach, the profession of psychology became much more objective between 1910 and 1920. Psychology then evolved into a science of observing others and recording those observations.

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Bias is a crucial factor in the study of introspection. This bias is known as introspective illusion. For example, studies have shown that, after introspective self-analysis, many individuals’ conclusions that they were less socially conforming or not as discriminatory toward others as most people were inaccurate. Additional tests given to these individuals did not confirm the results of their self-evaluations.

In some ways, introspection differs greatly between individuals. For example, some people may go beyond observing, examining and reflecting on their actions, thoughts, feelings and desires. They may include a self-assessment of their spirit or soul. In this way, being introspective can deeply involve an individual’s beliefs, values and more abstract, unique approaches to evaluating the inner self.

An example of introspection in cognitive psychology is when an individual is asked to try to explain why he or she made a certain decision. The word cognitive pertains to thought. Thought can also involve creative introspection. For instance, sympathetic introspection is the psychological imagining of one’s self in the same situation as another person. Being sympathetically introspective can provide insight and understanding into another person's situation such as why he or she may have made certain choices.

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Azuza
Post 4

I actually went to a psychologist for about three months a few years ago. I had PTSD and I really needed some help dealing with it. The therapist I went to used introspection as a technique to help me get to the root of my feelings.

The whole things was actually pretty simple. She mostly had my think about why I felt a certain way about things, mostly things and places that triggered my PTSD. By using the technique of introspection, I was able to remember some details about the initial traumatic incident that I had repressed. So in my case, introspection actually helped a lot.

KaBoom
Post 3

@indemnifyme - I agree, some people should just end introspection and go on living their lives!

Also, I'm not surprised that a lot of peoples' ideas about themselves post-introspection don't match reality. I know a ton of people who think they're smarter, more open-minded, and nicer than they really are.

In light of this fact, I actually don't think introspection is very useful. If most people don't even view themselves accurately, what good is introspection? I imagine most people come up with a lot of untrue ideas, just like the people in the study.

indemnifyme
Post 2

I think introspection can be very valuable, even for people who aren't involved in psychology somehow. We can all benefit from a little bit of self-examination and self-reflection. However, I think too much introspection can be a bad thing.

I have a few friends who spend a lot of time thinking about themselves and their actions, and sometimes it just gets to be too much. They second-guess themselves and torture themselves over every little detail of their lives. And they bore everyone else with these details too! I think these people could definitely stand for a little bit less introspection.

anon145685
Post 1

Wundt did not champion introspection. Wundt was an experimentalist. His student, Titchner brought introspection to America.

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