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Act psychology

Founded by Franz Brentano in opposition to structuralism, a school of psychology that focuses on what the mind does rather than what is contained within it.
Franz Brentano (1838-1917) is known as the founder of act psychology. He proposed it in opposition to structuralism. For Brentano, what is important is what the mind does, not what is contained within it. In other words, psychology should focus on experience as an activity rather than on experience as a structure. As Boring (1950) explains: "When one sees a color, the color itself is not mental. It is the seeing, the act, that is mental" (p. 360). Brentano divided mental acts into three basic classes: ideating (e.g., sensing), judging (e.g., acknowledging), and loving/hating (e.g., wishing). He noted that every act always refers to (or intends) something outside of itself (intentionality); thus, acts are inseparable from the objects to which they intend. He allowed for the fact that the object of an act may be another act. In contrast to the rigid analytical introspective methodology of Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) and Edward Titchener (1867-1927), Brentano proposed an alternative phenomenological introspection as a means to study mental acts and intentionality. Phenomenological introspection is directed toward intact, meaningful experience. Act psychology was a forerunner to the Würzberg school and helped provided the philosophical foundation for the founding of functionalism.
Further Reading:

Adams, W. A. (2000). Introspectionism reconsidered [On-line] Available:

Boring, E. G. (1950). A history of experimental psychology. (2nd ed.). New York: Appleton Century-Crofts.

Oxford Companion to Philosophy. (1995). Franz Brentano [On-line] Available:

Schultz, D. (1981). A modern history of psychology. (3rd ed.). New York: Academic Press.

Smith, B. (1994). Austrian philosophy: The legacy of Franz Brentano. La Salle, IL: Open Court.

Related Terms:
Functionalism (Hergenhahn)


Introspection (Wundt)

Phenomenological introspection

Structuralism (Hergenhahn)

Titchener, Edward Bradford (1867 - 1927)

Wundt, Wilhelm Maximilian (1832 - 1920)

W├╝rzburg school

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