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.
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.