What Is Introspection? Psychology, Definition, And Applications

By: Tanisha Herrin

Updated July 02, 2020

Everyday people think about their feelings and emotions, but there is a way to do this that brings focus, purpose, and a better understanding of self-reflection and self-awareness. The introspection concept explores inner thoughts and feelings following a unique structure of analysis. Initially, it was a technique used as an experimental form of exploring emotions in detail. As the concept was further researched, it became a formalized approach in psychology to assist others that would encourage a better understanding of one's thoughts and actions from the past. Introspection is significant because it promotes and sustains a positive direction for mental growth and development.

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Introspection Defined

Introspection explores access one has to their mental state of mind. Psychologist Wilhelm Wundt developed the technique. His studies developing the technique included helping others through self-observation of their thoughts. He trained people to analyze context within personal opinions objectively. The concept features a common element people do, which is examining their ideas. With techniques of introspection, psychology experts help people emotionally engage in events from the past to understand their thought processes related to feelings they experienced. The aspect simply looks at how the mind processes emotions and memories to help one understand their meanings. It gives another look at how people are affected by things around them through a precise, structured process.

In modern terms, the concept helps people get to know themselves by uncovering values deep within and deciding how to use them. It is allowing yourself to become an expert on your emotions with professional guidance. Research on the concept shows evidence it encourages people to make better decisions in life leading to fulfillment and a sense of purpose. Even when dealing with uncertainty, techniques practiced and applied ensure that you stay on track to meet personal goals. It may lead to improved relations with others at home and work while enhancing mental health. Some see this as a way of uncovering inner strength and power, allowing better control of processing thoughts.

The practice was widely used through the United States and Europe after Wundt's discovery, which included 40 years of research. The method is abandoned in parts of the world, but researchers continue to explore ways of self-reporting measures to gain more understanding about thought pattern processes and perceptions of introspecting subjects. Some see introspection as a tool to observe a person's thoughts, while others feel it is valuable spiritually when observing feelings of one's soul.

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Introspection Concerns

Wundt and other psychologists studying the technique have faced criticisms about the concept. Some experts feel the process itself may influence changes in how a person truly feels during the experience. For instance, when providing information about your feelings, chances are you have to stop and think about it for a moment. It is during this time that it is believed the experience is being changed and even the feeling itself because the thought process is interrupted to give feedback on what one is feeling.

Associated techniques with introspection are credited for advancing scientific aspects of psychology. However, experts have argued some areas of the method lacked scientific sufficiency when supporting certain forms of behavior. Additionally, the concept presented other concerns including:

  • Responses by experts observing a person's feelings may not be consistent.
  • The technique may benefit only certain groups of people such as adults instead of children.
  • Some experts think there are limitations with introspection in complex situations such as those with developmental, learning, mental or personality disorders.

Elements of the concept continue to be explored and debated. Wundt, along with other observers, broke down their observations of people's feelings into three categories: affection, images, and sensations. Concerns from theorists believe the technique doesn't put enough focus on how thoughts are organized. Therefore, critics feel aspects of behavior should be the primary focus defined as scientific psychology.

The Validity of the Technique

The research method for this concept relies on a person's thoughts and feelings. Also known as a self-report, other forms of psychology rely on the same elements except some think one may distort their details if what they are feeling is undesirable. While it brings feelings expressed to the surface, some experts believe the feelings are intensified or changed without the aspect of introspecting. It may encourage people to communicate choices made in a situation, but not justify why they were not satisfied with the decision.

Researchers feel people understand their attitudes better than following the reasons for them. For instance, if you have a group of people who give their opinion about a product, and each offered their justifications of why they like or dislike it. People may have personal preferences even though it is the same product. The concept, in this case, allows people to introduce assumptions about their thoughts, but they may not be completely accurate in doing so. Experts believe there are valid areas introspection touches when exploring personal behaviors, but feel more development is necessary for cognitive processes used within the technique. In general, the method gives insight on experiences from events instead of providing understanding related to the cause. Few believe using multiple methods may offer better results instead of using just one.

How Introspection Explores Consciousness

Psychologically, as a method, it examines thought processes related to thinking, learning, perception, problem-solving, and analyzing dreams. During the late 1800s, Wundt and other observers relied on this method often to understand levels of consciousness of the mind. Wundt had a unique interest in understanding what a person is thinking, feeling, and perceiving during specific experiences in time. Visual and auditory elements such as light and sound were also introduced to understand other aspects of one's experience,

The studies behind the method present more intricate reflections of what a person experienced. Others that observed along Wundt were aggressively trained on how to examine, describe, and report related senses of the experience described by those they were studying. The line of questioning involved was systematic and avoided bias while preventing outside influence from affecting how the experience was reported. Those that participated in the study were assumed to be in good health, alert, and free of distractions while giving personal self-reports.

The Self-Reflection Connection

The Greek philosopher Plato has influenced developments of introspection, along with the aspect of human self-reflection. His beliefs included not just reviewing one's thoughts, but to be thorough in examining how they appear within us. Introspection is exercised by the human ability to be willing to learn more about one's nature and purpose. Philosophy of the mind, self-awareness, and consciousness also play essential roles in self-reflection. Mental exercises may include elements of introspection and self-reflection to help people find value within personal mistakes to encourage spiritual growth.

Some feel there are effective ways to engage in these aspects that may reduce feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression. An element to note is that it is suggested to avoid becoming obsessed with experiencing certain beliefs, but instead, stay focused on answering questions or getting to the bottom of what is causing negative emotions. Questions asking why may help someone understand personal limitations created from their feelings. Questions asking what fuels curiosity and positivity about future results. While there are ways to apply such exercises to gain personal reflection of one's feelings, it is crucial to stay open to similar concepts that may open doors to understanding how your thoughts engage in behaviors expressed.

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Why Many Suggest That Introspection is Crucial

People may think they don't have time to explore their thoughts with more in-depth detail. Society influences how people spend their time while also changing their thoughts and feelings. Making time to understand your thoughts and why they affect you takes courage while helping you discover who you are. Assessing your thoughts is encouraged because it helps one know the different stages in life and how they are approached. Whether you engage in professional guidance through in-person or online therapy support options, or you complete personal assessments to ask questions about your feelings, such efforts work to improve the value of thoughts created leading to clarity of how things affect you.

Studies suggest people's thought patterns include a significant amount of harmful content. Many include repetitive thoughts or concepts taking up too much energy and space physically and mentally. Thus, affecting how people use their ability to see things with conviction and clarity when making decisions. Introspection encourages positive energy from oneself to enhance personal motivation to learn more about themselves. It makes it easier to break down things that distract us or lead to negative thoughts by establishing a process of analyzing and purifying thoughts and feelings.

Introspection may help you realize the capabilities to deal with the challenges you thought were impossible. Exploring your thoughts may be done in different ways from analyzing relationships to how to meet goals in life. Asking questions about yourself is the starting point of realizing what you can do and why some things have a stronger effect on you than others. Using a concept such as introspection along with other useful mental health tools may help achieve a productive approach to creating a balanced lifestyle.

FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is an example of introspection?

Introspection is about self-examination. It’s a part of scientific psychology. An individual analyzes themselves and their behavior. One of the goals of introspection is to gain emotional awareness. It’s a process by which you consider your personality and how it impacts others. Through this process, a person can better understand their mental processes. Sometimes we get caught up in the outside world and how others see us. When you take some time to look inward at your mental processes, you may be surprised at what you discover. It could be a profound consciousness experience. Maybe you have pre-existing beliefs about introspection. Perhaps you’ve read about the cognitive sciences behind it and understand its importance. Introspection can give you a sense of your personality and social impact on those around you, including friends, loved ones, and co-workers. You might discover introspective access by using meditation or by journaling. Consciousness and cognition are directly related. You could be aware of your mental processes, or perhaps you don’t know why you engage in certain behaviors. Here’s where being introspective can help. You can have a conscious experience while delving deep into your thoughts. You’re looking at your actions in a realistic way, and potentially, attempting to solve a hard problem within your relationships or interactions. Why do you do things that you do?

What is an introspective person?

An introspective person is someone who is self-aware. They pay attention to their mental processes to understand why they might engage in particular actions. It’s one thing to observe a problematic behavior, and another to have a conscious experience where you analyze it. Introspection can be a mind body experience, delving into your conscious thoughts and possible somatic responses. When you meditate on your behavior, you relax your entire self. It’s good to rely on trusting the subject you’ve been pondering. Keep in mind; you may not have the answers right away.

Is introspection a sign of intelligence?

According to the British Journal of Psychology, introspection approaches mental processes as if they were tangible. It deals with many mental states, including anxiety and depression, where introspection involves looking within to help figure out what you need as a person. Introspective people tend to be intelligent, especially with their emotions. You may have heard the term emotional intelligence.

The history of introspection is fascinating to look at because it has evolved. William Wundt, who is considered the father of modern psychology, was the first individual to take on introspection and address it as cognitive science and a social science, relating it to personality and social psychology. The history of introspection is vast, and it relies both on experimental social psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Individuals are given reports on mental processes and how they impact their mental state, respectively, and their ability to process emotions. It is a mind-body experience, and introspective individuals find themselves looking inward and genuinely trying to understand who they are and what they may have to offer the world. Consciousness and cognition work together when you’re talking about introspection. That’s a concept that Edward Tichener studied. Tichener was an English psychologist who studied under William Wundt, and he illustrated his ideas of the structure of the mind. He talked about the elements of consciousness, analyzed introspective reports, and orchestrated a psychological review of his findings. Through this review of psychology as it relates to introspection, he discussed personality and social psychology. Edward Tichener and William Wundt conducted psychological research and wrote reports on the mental process that each subject engaged in about introspection. Introspection is a psychological process to be observed by many different individuals, including psychologists and the people that are involved in this endeavor. It is a sign of intelligence in some ways because the person is looking at their mental image and trying to understand more about themselves.

How does introspection work?

Richard Nisbett, an American social-psychologist, believed in the introspection illusion and that there is a cognitive bias. He wrote a controversial paper in which he said introspection wasn’t reliable and that there wasn’t a direct correlation between introspective access and the understanding of oneself. He talked about the philosophy of the mind and collected verbal reports on mental processes as well as written reports. He found that there was privileged access to the brain, in addition to these verbal reports, and that the trends in cognitive psychology point to the fact that it believes self-introspection impacts are understanding oneself while discounting the introspection of others. Privileged access to the mind was crucial in Nisbett’s research. Introspection created biases and an unrealistic expectation. He regarded this idea as the introspection illusion. According to Nisbett, introspection is a way to look inward, a process by which you look within yourself and make indirect inferences while avoiding quick assumptions or the notion of total self-knowledge. Introspection, in itself, is the process of looking inward as a means to gain some insight and perspective.

Is introspection used today?

Introspection is used today in therapy for people looking within themselves and trying to figure out who they are and what behaviors are helping them and which are not helping them. The role of introspection in therapy is to help a person come to terms with what’s working for them and what isn’t. Introspection is considered a philosophy of mind. People need to realize their conscious thoughts and find the direct introspective access that they need to change or modify their behavior. Introspection can help people to cope with life.

Is introspection good or bad?

For some people, too much introspection can be overwhelming, and it doesn’t necessarily help the person understand themselves. But for some people, it can be a way to sort through a hard problem or find emotional insight. So, it can be a mixed bag.

Is introspective a mood?

Introspection is not considered a mood. It’s a process that someone engages in to assist in figuring themselves out. One account of introspection is that it helps people to improve their relationships with others by seeing how they behave toward other people. In this way, it is something that has the potential to really benefit you in life.

What are the problems with introspection?

One problem with introspection is that you can focus too much on your narrative and not think about other people. You can make a psychological inquiry to your therapist and figure out what the role of introspection could be and how it can help you, and talk about the psychological process. Introspection is a cross-cultural phenomenon that many people find to be helpful. It makes claims about the mind in how powerful that looking inward is. Some people don’t like to be introspective because they don’t want to see the mental content within themselves. They might read a psychological bulletin and find that they’re pulled to do introspective work, but it doesn’t necessarily help them. According to Oxford University Press, introspection stands at the interface between questions and epistemology about self-knowledge and in the philosophy of mind. It’s a part of scientific psychology, and it can be beneficial to some people.

What is the difference between self-reflection and introspection?

Introspection is something that is a deep self-reflection, so they’re inter-related. But introspective people take a long time to think about their behavior and its impact on others. When you’re introspective, you’re aware of your propositional attitude or a perspective on different matters. There’s also a concept called blindness and introspection. That means that the individual intends to make a choice, but chooses something completely different. It’s up to that person to begin to unpack their mistake. Choice blindness and introspection are more common than you might think. People aren’t always aware of when they’re making a mistake, and it’s good to take a moment to consider your behavior and the impact it has on yourself and others.

How do I stop being so introspective?

Trends in cognitive sciences seem to find their way back to the concept of introspection. That’s because, as human beings, we naturally analyze why we take certain actions. That being said, introspection isn’t a bad thing. It’s essential to find a balance between looking inward and using that self-reflection to change your mindset and figure out how to relate. Cognitive sciences value the idea of introspection because it helps you understand yourself, but it’s essential to consider other people’s points of view. Maybe those trends in cognitive science are telling us to keep on being introspective. 

Is Introspective a good thing?

Introspection can be a good thing if you feel the need to understand better yourself, your feelings, and your thought processes. According to the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy, introspective knowledge happens at the moment, rather than overtime. A person looks inward and finds the truth of their situation. There are many ways to be introspective, but the bottom line is that it starts with you and your mind. The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy recognizes the value of introspection as a philosophical concept and a process that a person engages in to better understand themselves. The encyclopedia of philosophy has a wealth of resources about the idea of introspection and other philosophical topics. If you’re someone who likes to analyze matters, philosophy is a fascinating subject. You can read an encyclopedia of philosophy and learn about different subjects about the mind and how people think. As human beings, we’re always wondering about existential topics. An encyclopedia of philosophy can provide some protocol analysis that one philosopher uses to understand the results of introspection. They will analyze the data that a person documents and ascertain what their findings are. That way, the results of introspection are precise, and there is report accuracy. According to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, there is some skepticism about the validity of introspection. Cognitive psychology relies on what the mind perceives, but there are also many different ways to see matters. What one person sees, another person views differently. There’s a difference between a study and a casual report from a client or subject. When a person is giving a verbal account of their thoughts, it’s informal, and there’s no one documenting it. There are debates about casual report accuracy because the subject isn’t being compared to others. Whereas, with studies about introspection, we have other subjects to compare to gain information. If you want to learn about introspection studies, you can check out the annual review of psychology. There you can find resources about the subject.

How do I become more introspective?

Trends in cognitive psychology are always changing. When it comes to introspection, the methodological recommendations are to continue to study the science of it by engaging in research. The most reliable form of study is to work with people and analyze their thought processes. Cognitive sciences are a place where introspection is investigated. Introspection is a philosophy of mind, and it’s something you can explore in counseling. Therapy is a great place to get direct introspective access and to potentially work on your personality and improve your mental state and social skills. When a client gives verbal reports of how they feel, a therapist can help them decode those emotions. It’s hard to analyze your feelings in a vacuum. That’s why verbal reports are helpful to a mental health provider and the client. Going to counseling is an excellent opportunity to disregard social judgments about your personality and figure out how to look at yourself impartially. Your therapist can help you create an account of introspection insights, uncovered, or mirrored back to you during the therapeutic process. It may also help you identify communication styles and patterns of behavior. Introspection is a philosophy of mind where one can figure out how they feel and tackle the mind-body problem.


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