(Das Institut für experimentelle Psychologie zu Leipzig)



(Wundt, W. (1909). Das Institut für experimentelle Psychologie zu Leipzig. Psychologische Studien, V, 279-293)

Translated by David J. MURRAY*, Christina A. BANDOMIR**, and Andrea R. KILGOUR**

(paper published in Psychology and HistoryPsychologie et Histoire, 2002, vol. 3, pp. 157-167)

*Queen’s University, Department of Psychology, Kingston, Ontario, K7L 3N6, Canada. Email:

**University of Guelph, Department of Psychology, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada. Email:



1.The History of the Institute


When the present author entered the faculty of the University on October 1, 1875, he had at his disposal a small room that had at one time been an auditorium in what was then called theKonviktgebäude [Translator’s note: a university refectory for underprivileged students]. This space had been allotted to him by the Royal Ministry, with the consent of the academic Senate, for the purpose of storing demonstrational material for lectures in psychology as well as apparatus for his own experimental investigations. In connection with a course called ‘Psychological Studies’ [Übungen], that had been offered in the first few semesters as a vehicle for the discussion of topics that had been raised in lectures, some individual students began, from autumn 1879 onwards, to carry out experimental studies in this room. The first completed investigation that resulted from this institutional setting was the thesis entitled "Über die Apperzeptionsdauer bei einfachen und zusammengesetzten Vorstellungen" [On the duration of apperception in connection with simple and compound sensations] by Dr. Max Friedrich, who unfortunately died prematurely while holding the post of a teacher in the Gymnasium [Translator’s note: a high school for students headed for university] at Bautzen. This was the first of a long series of investigations concerned with the laws determining the time-courses of individual psychological process; in these investigations, the durations of these processes were measured empirically. Friedrich’s research had commenced in Winter 1879/80 and had been completed as a dissertation in 1883, the same year in which it was published in Volume I of the journal Philosophische Studien, edited by Wilhelm Wundt. During the following semesters, several students and young Dozenten [Translator’s note: adjunct faculty] took part in research investigations and studies that initially had not been announced in the University’s official calendar of lectures [Vorlesungsverzeichnis]. Among the more notable early participants in these experimental psychological studies were Dr. Emil Kraepelin, now Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Psychiatric Clinic in Munich, Dr. W. Moldenhauer, then Privatdozent in the pathology of the ear at Leipzig, Dr. G. Stanley Hall, now President of Clark University in Worcester, Mass., Dr. Ernst Tischer and Dr. Martin Trautscholdt, now professors of mathematics and physics respectively at the Nikolai-Gymnasium in Leipzig, and, finally, Dr. James Mac Keen Cattel (sic), now Professor of Psychology and Director of the Psychological Institute at Columbia University in New York.

It was in the Summer semester of 1881 that a course entitled "Psychophysical Studies for Advanced Students" was first listed in the University Calendar. Admittedly it could only be scheduled on a restricted basis because the small room mentioned above, along with the occasional addition of a neighboring auditorium, were only available at certain hours, and the only apparatus that was available for student usage belonged to the small collection of apparatus that was the private possession of the instructor of the course. But after 1883, following the appearance of the first issue of Philosophische Studien, whose contents consisted predominantly of experimental research conducted in the context of that course, the fate of the Institute took a happier turn when the Royal Ministry agreed to a small State subsidy, as a result of which the Institute could now be listed formally as one of the general University Institutes, and an Assistant could now be hired. Furthermore, the amount of workspace at the disposal of the Institute was expanded by two small rooms that had been created by subdividing the neighboring auditorium. Although Dr. Mac Keen Cattell (sic) had previously been active as a volunteer assistant starting in Winter 1885/1886, from Autumn 1887 onwards the post of Assistant was filled by Dr. Ludwig Lange, now a private instructor in Tübingen.

In the Winter semester of 1883/84, the Institute was listed for the first time under its present name in the University Calendar, and, in place of "Psychophysical Studies", the title "Seminar for Experimental Psychology" first appeared. Moreover, during the following semesters, the opportunity arose for yet a further expansion of the workspace allotted to the Institute because the Pharmacological Institute was moved from its then domicile, in the nearby Beguinenhaus, to a new building on Liebig Street. As a result, two rooms in the Beguinenhauswere handed over to the Psychological Institute, which now consisted of over five rooms. Meanwhile, Dr. Lange had unfortunately been obliged by illness to resign from his position, so from the Winter semester of 1887/88 onwards, Dr. Oswald Külpe, currently Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Psychological Institute at Bonn, took his place. Assisting him as research and teaching assistants during the next few semesters were, first, Dr. C. Lorenz, currently a Professor at the Technikum in Mittweida, second, Dr. Alfred Vierkandt, nowDozent of ethnology in Berlin, and finally, from Autumn 1888 onwards, Dr. A. Kirschmann, now Professor of Psychology and Director of the Psychological Laboratory in Toronto, Canada.

During the following years one of the most important transformations in the outward appearance of the Institute was the demolition of its original work place, the Konviktegebäude, in the course of a reconstruction of the University. While this rebuilding activity it was taking place, it was necessary for a large part of the University to be moved temporarily to the Trier Institute on the street called the Grimmaischen Steinweg. Here the Institute, as a consequence of being transferred to the second storey of the house at 12 Grimmaischen Steinweg, found itself with an adequate number of rooms, namely, 11, these being located on the south, north, and east, and close to an auditorium for its own use. This provisional Institute was described by me at the request of the Royal Prussian Ministry of Education in a work entitled "Die deutschen Universitäten" [The German Universities] produced on the occasion of the World Exhibition in Chicago (pp. 450 ff.). The larger space now available to the Institute meant that those conducting experiments and practical classes were no longer forced to restrict themselves with respect to the details of their investigations; they could gradually extend the scope of their enquiries as their greater needs dictated; and this step meant that it became clearly justifiable to seek further personnel to assist in the carrying out of its work. Although, from Autumn 1891 onwards, the Director had sought to compensate for this shortage of personnel by hiring a private assistant from his own funds, in the summer of 1894 the Royal Ministry officially approved the hiring of a second Assistant. At the same time, the Institute’s announcements in the University Calendar took their current form, with the inclusion of an introductory course for new entrants, taught for two hours weekly by one of the Assistants, and the inclusion of a listing of the research topics and specialties associated with current members of the Institute, for whom the Institute was opened from two to seven on Monday to Friday and from two to four on Saturday.


2.Description of the Institute

Following the rebuilding of the University in August 1896, the Psychological Institute was situated in the upper storeys of the south-facing part of the Johanneum and the west-facing part of the Paulinum in such a way that the Institute formed a connecting link between these two buildings. The attached figure shows how this space was divided; some neighbouring auditoria that served the Institute’s teaching purposes are also included in the figure. Of these, the large auditorium, A, included 490 seats arranged in the form of an amphitheatre. Lit from overhead, it can be darkened in a few minutes by way of a black curtain set in motion by an electric motor. In addition, it was furnished with a rostrum to which was affixed a large table provided with outlets for gas and electricity, and connected by wiring to the laboratory so that apparatus which resided there could be utilized for [demonstration] experiments in the auditorium. The small auditorium, B, has 98 seats. It serves for lectures on specialized topics in psychology and so is provided with thick black vitrages on the windows so that the room can be darkened. Like the large auditorium, it is also fitted with outlets for conduction gas, electricity, etc.



The laboratory itself has two entrances. One, located just behind the auditorium space, is only intended to allow access to the lecture rooms. The other, located by the stairwell, is a general entrance intended for visitors to the Institute. Both lead to a corridor that is illuminated from its northern side by a row of windows. At the extreme east end of this corridor, a little workroom (marked 1 in the figure) is partitioned off from the rest of the corridor because its unusually evenly distributed northern light makes it particularly suitable for certain purposes. In this room is to be found a marble table (marked St. in the figure) firmly fixed to the foundations of the building. If one opens the large door that leads from room 1 to the general laboratory space, one finds a very well lit corridor, 37.1 m long, at one’s disposal for carrying out experiments demanding long distances. The set of rooms that face south in the Johanneum was deliberately designed to be appropriate for experiments on visual perception [optische Arbeiten]. One of these rooms (marked 2b in the figure) serves as a darkroom, with its walls, ceiling, and floor all painted black, while a neighbouring room (marked 2a in the figure) possesses a balcony equipped so that a heliostat that can be used in the course of observations taking place in direct sunlight. In this room can also be found an arc lamp with its associated apparatus, a site where accumulators can be electrically re-charged, and more. In the darkroom 2b itself, the optical apparatus, which is continuously being changed as new experiments are initiated, is laid out on tables that are painted black. The large room (marked 2 in the figure) that is adjacent to rooms 2and 2b is equipped likewise with black curtains so that it too can be darkened and can therefore serve as the main testing space to be used in optical experiments; the same is true of the rooms marked 5 and 11.

Room number 3 is the office of the director. Of the other side of the stairwell lies room 6 which is larger and oriented towards University Street; this room serves mainly for the storage of demonstration apparatus for lectures as well as for meetings attended by members of the Institute. Here can also be found, stored in cupboards along the walls, a Meidinger battery with 60 elements. This device is essential in chronoscopic experimentation in which a very high degree of constancy of electrical current-strength has to be maintained for weeks at a time; but in most cases, it suffices for connections to be available to a source of 110 volts along with circuitry that includes the appropriate accumulators and resistances.

Directly opposite room 6 lies the entrance to the second part of the laboratory, whose windows face east or west. It is divided into two sets of rooms, one set facing University Street and intended for general purposes (marked 15, 14, and 13 in the figure) and the other set consisting of individual work spaces (marked 7 to 12 in the figure) facing the University courtyard; these rooms are provided with large double-glazed windows that shut out ambient noise. Including the little anteroom (marked 12a in the figure), there is a total of 10 individual larger or smaller rooms. Number 15 serves as a cloakroom and for the storage of demonstration charts used in lectures; these are kept in several cupboards. Number 14 is a reading room in which the reference library of the Institute is housed likewise in lockable cupboards. Number 13 is a small workshop outfitted with the necessary tools. Opposite these rooms, facing eastwards, the other set of rooms is accessible both from the cloakroom and from the reading room but these rooms are separated from each other by thick walls. Number 7 is the office of the associate director (Mitdirektor), number 8 is a work room that has linoleum flooring and contains a sound level meter, number 9 is a larger workroom mainly devoted to acoustic experiments, and numbers 10 and 11 are rooms that can be used for a variety of purposes. The final subdivision, room 12, consists of a ‘sound-proof’ room [‘Stillezimmer’, literally, ‘quiet room’] with a small anteroom, 12a. A padded door protects the quiet room from external sounds emanating from the anteroom, and the quiet room itself is furthermore surrounded by double walls filled with insulating rubble. In order to present isolated sounds, a soundproof closable duct leads from room 9 to room 12; sounds from rooms 13 and 12aare kept out. In order that the quiet room can also be used as a darkroom if required, it is painted black in the same way as is the other darkroom, 2b.

Finally, it remains to be noted that all the rooms in the Institute that are intended to be used for experimental work are provided with a strong source of electric current produced either by accumulators or by the Meidinger battery in room 6. Because, for many purposes, the work of the various participants in a research group is necessarily carried out in separate rooms, a switchboard with several terminals is available that can be used, as the demands of individual psychological experiments dictate, to provide separate sources of electric currents that serve as sources of energy, as in signaling and telephone circuits. The need for separate testing spaces is one of the reasons for the laboratory’s having been divided into a relatively large number of small rooms, with only a few large rooms reserved for those experiments whose equipment takes up a large amount of space. Moreover, in physics and chemistry laboratories, it is often the case that several independent investigators will work alongside each other in one and the same room; but space utilization of this nature is not to be found anywhere in this Institute.


3.Apparatus and Teaching Materials

The close relationship that experimental psychology bears to its neighbouring scientific disciplines, especially physics and physiology, entails that psychology will share, with these other disciplines, many scientific instruments that are already available to physicists and physiologists. We do not need, therefore, to present a completely comprehensive enumeration of the apparatus falling into this class; it will be enough to indicate a few of the special directions in which experimental psychological methodologies have led to modifications of such apparatus and to describe how some of the instrumental aids that were available to those older disciplines are finding wider applications. In particular, we may list here the numerous scientific instruments that are employed in tasks involving the measurement of sensation intensity. This is the special realm of ‘psychophysics’ in Fechner’s meaning of the term; progress in investigations of psychophysical problems has been accompanied by a growing demand for the production of uniform and precisely controlled sensory stimuli in all of the sensory provinces (for example, devices producing sounds whose loudness can be varied [Fallphonometer], photometers, weights for experiments on sensations of tactile pressure, and so on). Another important topic for research is sensation quality, particularly with respect to the specification of the individual sensory modalities involved.

In particular, the inventory of psychological apparatus that is used in acoustic experiments is clearly different from that associated with laboratory work in physics and physiology. For example, the Leipzig laboratory has at its disposal a set of tuning forks which range in a large number of small steps from tones of 32 vibrations to 2,024 vibrations; from 2,024 vibrations upwards, the tuning forks range by rather larger steps up to 60,000 vibrations, including the use of small tuning forks and pipes for those tones known from earlier research to be clearly audible. This set of tuning forks was manufactured partly in the workshops of R. König in Paris, and partly by G. and A. Appun in Hanau. In addition, the laboratory possesses a so-called Appun tone measurer [Tonmesser] that can respond to the frequencies of reed-pipe tones between 32 and 1,024 vibrations inclusive, and an overtone apparatus that can respond to each of the 60 overtones associated with a low C (32 vibrations). There are also several devices for studying chords produced by lip- or tongue-operated pipes, devices whereby individual difference tones and overtones can be amplified.

The Institute also possesses, in addition to the usual photometric apparatus, a larger apparatus for the splitting and mixing of the colours of the prismatic spectrum, as well as a Helmholtz colour-mixer (located in room 4), etc.

A third category of apparatus concerns physiology in particular, but the instruments are occasionally modified so as to be appropriate for specific purposes related to psychology; these include apparatus for the graphical representation of the pulse rate, the breathing rate, and any variations in blood vessel volume that are associated with the innervation of those vessels. Also deserving of special mention are several instruments used in analogous experiments involving vocalization, notably a recording device that represents the throat movements produced during vocalization; this device has been described by Krueger and Wirth. All of this instrumentation, especially the plethysmographic, sphygmographic, and pneumographic recording devices, are used under very specific conditions that are determined by the psychological application in question; they serve as the main means whereby physiological signs associated with feelings and affects can be measured.

A fourth category of apparatus concerns so-called ‘chronometric’ instruments; in the particular context of psychological research, these instruments have undergone development in several widely differing directions. First, we must mention the chronograph, which may be categorized as being analogous, in its principles of operation, to the graphic recording devices mentioned above. It permits the measurement of extremely small time intervals all the way down to 1/10,000 of a second, even granted that the limiting values of those time intervals may vary in their general range with the type of experiment (sometimes they are positive, sometimes negative). The Institute owns an older instrument of this kind that was constructed by the technician [Mechaniker] K. Krille and a more recent (and substantially improved) version constructed by the current technician for the Institute, E. Zimmermann. Three Hipp chronoscopes are also available, two older and one more recent, as well as the necessary accessories that go with them. All of these time-measuring devices are utilized in the context of so-called ‘reaction’ experiments; they are all intended, with their various modifications, to measure the time elapsing from the moment a stimulus has its effect on an observer to the moment at which a voluntary reaction is made by the observer to that stimulus; the researcher also takes a particular interest in the variety of psychological processes that may occupy the reaction interval. The calibration of these chronoscopes is facilitated by the use of the chronograph.

Fifthly, we can add to these chronometric instruments apparatus designed for the investigation of the mental representation of time. Among these are the varieties of so-called ‘time-sense apparatus’, all of which are designed to present sensory impressions (above all, sound stimuli) at precisely measured time intervals, at the same time as either keeping constant or systematically varying the intensity and the quality of each individual stimulus. The Institute possesses both a small and a large version of such an apparatus; both can be connected to a kymograph (ideally, a Baltzar kymograph); the larger version is particularly well suited for a wide variety of applications.

Next, we can list a number of items that constitute ‘tachistoscopic apparatus’. These are devices that allow simple sensory impressions (especially visual), or combinations thereof, to affect consciousness within a specified time interval. As a rule, this interval is small and precisely controlled in duration. To these belong the Falltachistoskop incorporating Atwood’s device for controlling the speed, the rotation- and mirror-tachistoscopes constructed by W. Wirth that allow for the repetition of uniform or of deliberately varied impressions within a precisely fixed interval of time, and so on. All these machines can also be used for the purpose of rigorously investigating attention processes as they relate to the span of consciousness. The Institute also possesses other machines and collections of apparatus that could serve equally well for this latter purpose, but listing them here would take too long.

As an example of a special apparatus that serves in the investigation of the relationships between rhythmic groupings of uniform sound impressions, we need only name the ‘Taktierapparat’ that allows the investigator to follow those undulations of rhythmic processing that are bound in with apperception. In a broader context, the tachistoscopic instruments can be supplemented by ‘complication apparatus’ that is used in the investigation of fusions of Vorstellungen and in studies of the temporal ordering of Vorstellungen when impressions are simultaneously evoked in more than one sense modality (for example, sound and light, hearing and touch, or combinations of a juxtaposed kind). Alongside the simple instrumentation designed to produce isolated impressions (notably, the ‘pendulum apparatus’ for complication experiments) can be found the analogous ‘complication clock’ designed to operate at uniform speeds.

Finally, we can list here as our last group of apparatus the ‘memory apparatus’; under this somewhat ambiguous heading we customarily include all those machines that are designed for qualitative and quantitative investigations into the processes of recognition and recall. The Institute possesses more than two such devices built on principles first specified by Ranschburg and improved by Wirth.

Quite apart from its mandate to support psychological research, the Institute is also obliged to have available demonstration apparatus for purposes of illustrating particularly important phenomena discussed in the lectures on psychology. Over the course of time, increasing attention has been given to the acquisition of apparatus that is not only useful in investigative research, but is also useful for the demonstration of these phenomena in an auditorium setting. So, for example, the Institute possesses a demonstration chronoscope that allows measurements of reaction time, as well as of the times of the separate mental processes constituting that reaction time, to be presented before a large audience in such a way that times down to 1/1,000 of a second can be easily read from a distance. It also possesses a Falltachistoskop in oversized dimensions that allow for its readings to be discernable by the naked eye at long distances, as well as a comparable pendulum apparatus for complication experiments, a large apparatus for memory experiments, etc.

There are also arrangements that are used exclusively for demonstration purposes. For example, there is apparatus that permits the spectrum to be projected objectively and also permits the isolation of individual regions of the spectrum and the mixing of individual colours from the spectrum. There are colour wheels of about 60 cm diameter (with correspondingly large rotation mechanisms) for the demonstration of colour mixtures, colour contrasts, and related phenomena. There is a large model for demonstrating eye movements. There are a large number of objects that can be used to demonstrate phenomena to do with visual depth perception, particularly the so-called geometric-optical illusions. There are outsize tuning forks that can produce the lowest audible tones and create visual patterns (associated with tonal vibrations) on an agitated surface, etc. Finally, we make mention of a collection of large visual illustrations that can be used as wall charts during lectures.

In the period following the death of technician K. Krille, who, in the early years of the Institute, had provided all the apparatus that had been needed, the Institute has been able to enjoy the services, for several years now, of the Institute’s new technician, E. Zimmermann, who has set up most of the apparatus currently possessed by the Institute and who has been praised many times for the meticulousness with which he accomplished this task and for his insightful advice. The present attendant of the Institute, Paul Koblischeck, has risen superbly to the challenge of fulfilling mechanical requirements of a less demanding nature.

The budget of the Institute for the purchase of apparatus, in the initial years following its founding, was extremely modest: it varied between 600 and 900 marks. The budget was raised to 2000 marks a number of years ago, a level still maintained. From this budget are excluded all the expenses associated with gas, electricity, heating, and the remuneration of the assistants and the attendant. Moreover, the costs of the library are reduced partly through donations, by the director, of journals, and partly through contributions from the members. This budget, however, was insufficient to have served as the sole source of funding for instrumentation (because of the high price of precision apparatus); from the outset, the expenses from the Institute’s budget were restricted only to apparatus used for general purposes; for special cases, exceptional disbursements had to be made. The expenses for the experiments carried out by members individually also had to be paid by them personally. But, apart from these expenses, participation in the practical work and research projects was free to members (aside from their small contribution to the library fund). The director reserves the right to select whose applications for membership will be successful; in general, it is a prerequisite that successful applicants already possess some theoretical knowledge of psychology and an appropriate amount of preliminary knowledge of the natural sciences.


4.Teaching and Research Projects [Arbeitsplan]


The activity of the laboratory can be divided into two kinds, namely, an introductory course which is taught every alternate semester for two hours one morning a week by an assistant, as was noted above, and in the special projects of the participants.

The introductory course was designed to acquaint all new entrants to the laboratory with a general knowledge of methodology and apparatus. To attain this goal, the main instruments were demonstrated in a carefully planned sequence and the students were gradually led into the conduction of their own experiments.

The plan for the special projects was first established, on the first day of the opening of the Institute each semester, at a special meeting, held in one room, attended by all the members. First, the director announced the research topics to be worked on, distinguishing between those topics that were being continued from previous semesters and new topics. With respect to the new topics, consideration was given, as soon as it became feasible, particularly to the specific wishes of individual senior members who had expressed an interest in working on a particular topic.

Then, the members were divided into individual groups, each of which was to be concerned with one particular topic. Entry into any group was voluntary, and any member was free to participate in several groups, provided that there were no time conflicts involved. Grouping of this kind is nearly always required in psychological experimentation, because it is nearly always the case that the observer and the experimenter need to be separate individuals, and furthermore, it is desirable that the results obtained by any individual observer are monitored by others. Moreover, it can happen that, with complicated experimental apparatus, it is necessary that individual parts of the apparatus be operated by more than one experimenter. Accordingly, there are very few investigations that can be undertaken by one single person who serves both as observer and as experimenter.

After the members had selected their individual groups, a timetable was drawn up in which both rooms and time slots were assigned appropriately to each group for the remainder of the semester. After the groups had been formed, a leader was then designated for each group. Usually, a senior member of the Institute was picked for this duty, one who had already acquired experience in working on other projects in previous semesters. This group leader had to write up the experiments upon their conclusion and, if the leader felt so inclined, revise the report for publication. Apart from this, the research data themselves, whether or not they were published, remained in the possession of the Institute.

In investigations that continue through a long series of semesters, it can happen that a group changes its leader. It can happen even more often that individual collaborators from one group enter or leave a group, particularly at the beginning of a semester. For this reason it is important that the leader of a group upholds the continuity of the investigation, so, in selecting a leader, it is necessary to take into account the length of stay of the leader at the University. Having a long-lasting leader, apart from ensuring the continuity of the work itself, has the advantage that each such leader gradually takes on the role of an adjunct assistant who can introduce beginners entering his group to the methods and technology associated with that group’s experimentation.

Publication of most of the research carried out at the Institute, assuming that the work was felt to be appropriate for the journal, has appeared from 1883 to 1903 in the twenty volumes of Philosophische Studien, which includes, alongside articles on experimental psychology, some individual articles on philosophy. Many of the articles published here had been previously presented as doctoral dissertations to the Faculty of Philosophy. From 1905 onwards, the above-named publication was replaced by Psychologische Studien; this journal published only work from the Institute and, occasionally, articles by researchers who had at one time been members of the Institute and whose research represented a continuation of work initiated at the Institute.

Finally, the following short statistical summary of the main areas of research in experimental psychology to which articles in the journal have been devoted gives an indication of the scope and directions of the investigations that have been the main preoccupation of the Institute from the time of its inception. The number of longer articles devoted to each topic is as follows: on the intensity of sensations (questions of ‘psychophysics’ in its narrower meaning), 14; on touch sensations, 7; on auditory psychology, 12; on visual sensations, 16; on the sense of taste, 4; on the sense of smell, 1; on visual depth perception, 6; on the course of Vorstellungen and of Vorstellungen related to time (the time-sense), 15; on experimental aesthetics, 3; on processes of attention, 10; on feelings and affects, 7; and on the processes of association and memory, 8. It will perhaps be of general interest to note that investigations of the relationships of simple sensations as well as those of space and time Vorstellungen appeared mainly in the early years of the Institute’s activities; on the other hand, investigations of the processes of attention and memory, as well as those of feelings and affects, appeared in the Institute’s later years.