Introspection or self-reflection is an activity in which one’s own thoughts, feelings and memories are made the subject of reflection. Reflecting, or reflection, is the understanding and recognition of processes that take place consciously and unconsciously within the own psyche. This not only involves thought processes, but also behavior. It often relates to experiences and events. Reflection is used to better handle similar situations in the future. In this function it does not differ much from evaluation.


Introspection differs from reflection in general by the emphasis placed on its own role in events:

  • what role have I played in the whole?
  • what options did I have?
  • what choices have I made?
  • why did I make that choice?
  • how do others view my behavior?
  • What do the answers to these questions mean for my behavior in the future?

For use in science it is necessary that this thinking is recorded in words, so that the texts can also be analyzed by others. This process was used not so long ago in the study of thought processes. For example, the Dutch psychologist Adriaan de Groot used it when studying thought processes of very good chess players.

Introspection was in 500 BC. applied and taught by the Buddha. Also in a number of writings of the Vedanta (from the same era) introspection takes an important place.

The 16th-century French writer Michel de Montaigne is seen as the first European writer who studied his own thoughts and feelings and made them the subject of his writings.

In modern vocational education, through competence-oriented learning, more and more emphasis is placed on the responsibility for own actions. This also means that people get insight into their own motivation to do or to do something.

Introspection in psychology

Introspective psychology is often seen as the first stage of psychology. The introspection would then be promoted as an important method for obtaining information about the elements of the human spirit by Wilhelm Wundt, the founder of experimental psychology in 1879. This view was introduced by John Broadus Watson and does not seem to be entirely accurate historically. In reality, the systematic use of introspection in experimental psychology dates from the beginning of the 20th century, with names such as Oswald Külpe, Karl Marbe, Alfred Binet and Edward B. Titchener.

Wundt was even very critical of the introspectionism of his former pupils. Introspection was rejected by behaviorism as a method to gain insight into mental processes. But actually the introspectionism was a fairly recent phenomenon. American experimental psychology has already focused on research of reaction times, psychophysics and memory in a more objective way. Behaviorism wants to apply the research method of the natural sciences to all of psychology, also to inner events and to oppose introspection.

In cognitive psychologyIntrospection is again accepted as a research method to determine which hidden motives or motives control the behavior. A variant that has been widely used in research are hard-thinking protocols in which test subjects are asked to say aloud when executing a thinking task of which he or she thought. Introspection in scientific research is also used as a source of inspiration for forming new hypotheses and models for research.

The reliability of introspection and self-insight, for example in witness statements, is questioned by psychological researchers because of possible distortions, additions and confabulations. Research also shows that people often have a ‘blind spot’ for their own prejudice, when they have to judge the behavior of other people.

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