Mental Set

Some of the most influential work to come out of the Würzburg school was that on Einstellung, or mental set. It was found that focus- ing subjects on a particular problem created a determining tendency that persisted until the problem was solved. Furthermore, although this tendency or set was operative, subjects were unaware of it; that is, it operated on the unconscious level. For example, a bookkeeper can balance the books without being aware of the fact that he or she is adding or subtracting. Mental sets could similarly be induced experimentally by instructing subjects to perform different tasks or solve different problems. Mental sets could also result from a person’s past experiences.

In opposition to Wundt, it was then the Würzburg school that first demonstrated that the higher mental processes could be studied experimentally. The school also claimed that associationism was inadequate for explaining the operations of the mind and challenged the voluntarists’ and the structuralists’ narrow use of the introspective method. Members of the Würzburg school made the important distinction between thoughts and thinking, between mental contents and mental acts. In elaborating these distinctions, members of the school remained aligned with Brentano and apart from Wundt and especially Titchener. Like Brentano, the members of the Würzburg school were interested in how the mind worked instead of what static elements it contains.

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