The concept of introspection was studied well before the birth of modern psychology, generally originating from the studies of philosophers like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and George Berkely. Many have identified introspection as a core tenant of psychology until the rise of behaviorism in the mid-20th century—despite its shift from this core definition, it’s still seen as a tool for self-awareness and understanding, possibly propelling us forward with a true knowledge of motive and self.
Below, we explore what introspection is, where it fits into modern psychology and ways you can use it to increase your quality of life.
What Is Introspection?
By today’s language standard, introspection has become nearly interchangeable with metacognition, which is generally defined as a similar self-analytical concept. Metacognition, like introspection, requires someone to apply conscious effort to "look inside" their mind. It is generally used as a common tool to help people learn study skills, change cognitive biases and address unconscious factors through deliberate action. Despite their similarities, many believe that metacognition and introspection are not identical. Metacognition generally involves applying one cognitive process, such as problem-solving, to change or analyze another cognitive process—such as focus or attention. Introspection can be tied to a person's consciousness, including any subjective experience the person is aware of.
In short, metacognition can allow a person to investigate their cognition, while introspection can enable them to analyze their consciousness. Both can be equally valuable in the journey of self-awareness, compassion and understanding.
Famous psychologist Wilhelm Wundt, who founded the Institute for Experimental Psychology, often utilized the mental process of introspection within his research. His goal was to train patients to analyze their own thoughts as objectively as possible.
Introspection And Epistemology
Epistemology is the field of philosophy that is generally concerned with the nature, origin and limits of human knowledge. Introspection and epistemology can interact seamlessly due to their subject matter and core focuses, which we begin to see in the early days of psychology. More specifically,. early philosophers were seen by many as noting that a person's beliefs are generally derived through introspection—and may appear more secure than their beliefs about the external world.
Philosophers then theorized that each person might have privileged access to their own mental states that could then be analyzed and understood using introspection. This is thought by many to have led to the prevailing belief that introspection was epistemically special, and that a person's reports about their mental states could be inherently more accurate than their beliefs about the external world.
While it possibly would be helpful if individuals were able to know their conscious experiences with absolute infallibility, it is possible for introspection to be inaccurate. The fallibility of introspection, as opposed to its infallibility, has been the subject of debate and study in modern experimental psychology in many contexts.
Introspection And Modern Psychology
Many of today's mental health practitioners have generally accepted introspection's fallibility. Self-reports of individual experiences are not considered inherently reliable or unreliable, instead being interpreted in the context of other available information in many cases.
Modern approaches to introspection generally focus heavily on self-awareness. As the name implies, self-awareness can describe how much an individual knows about their conscious experiences, and it may possibly color how they react to stimuli in the context of them. This cognitive process is generally known as internal self-awareness. A similar concept, external self-awareness, generally refers to understanding how other people see the individual.
While introspection is generally thought to be tied to self-awareness, increased introspection might not necessarily lead to increased self-awareness. The limitations of introspection can become clearer when one considers how limited the "privileged access" of introspection actually can be if a person chooses to do an introspective search of their own thoughts.
Many of a person's thoughts, feelings, and motives are unconscious, which can mean that they are not accessible to introspection. A person who uses introspection to gain self-awareness can then invent answers to justify conscious experiences that feel true but may be inaccurate. Introspection can also invite unproductive negative thoughts, which can introduce patterns that can be associated with rumination.
Current psychology research suggests that a person who analyzes themselves frequently might be more likely to be depressed or nervous than someone who rarely engages in self-analysis. Many believe that when people learn more about themselves, they can inevitably dredge up negative things like fears, shortcomings and insecurities. In this instance, they may assign their behaviors to a negative factor that is irrational or not linked to the true cause, such as baseless insecurity.
If excessive introspection or rumination has strained your mental health, we do want to note that online therapy can be a helpful supportive method to try. Therapists can help many attain a higher, more accurate level of self-communication, which can actively limit the effects of rumination in most.
Improving Through Introspection: Is It Possible?
Introspection, when done correctly, can increase self-awareness and possibly improve one's mental health.However, as stated above, introspection can also have adverse effects. Below are some tips to enhance self-awareness through introspection, possibly helping one to avoid negative thoughts and feelings that can be associated with rumination.
“What, Not Why”
Developed by psychologist and New York Times bestselling author Tasha Eurich, What Not Why is generally known as a practical and popular tool for developing internal self-awareness. In this method, the person being introspective can avoid asking “why” questions of themselves and their experiences, focusing instead on asking “what” questions—which can be a useful way to ground themselves in more helpful and factually based thought processes.
Dr. Eurich postulated that "why" questions, such as: "Why do I feel this way," were less effective than "what" questions; such as: "What am I feeling right now?" Asking a "what" question might force a person to name and understand their thoughts and feelings, which can be a helpful technique for improving self-awareness in many. "Why" questions, however, can elicit unhelpful answers that can prompt rumination in some. For example, the question of: "Why do I feel this way?" may elicit nonspecific, incorrect or emotional answers—such as: "Because I am a negative or unworthy person."
Additionally, "what" questions invite specificity. "What am I feeling right now?" can lead a person to conclude that they are hungry, tired or overwhelmed as they search for the emotions they are genuinely experiencing. That's not to say that "Why" questions are useless, however. "Why" questions can be especially effective for understanding and solving problems in our environment. However, in the context of introspection, "what" questions can be better at helping a person to understand themselves.
Many believe that meditation is one of the oldest forms of introspection. Meditation generally involves achieving a calm emotional state and asking introspective questions to increase self-awareness. To begin, you might find a quiet, safe area and make yourself comfortable. You can then begin breathing slowly and deeply. Once you feel noticeably relaxed, you can then begin to consider your introspective questions.
Here are some questions people commonly ask themselves during meditation. (Note that they are all "what" questions rather than "why" questions):
- What am I trying to achieve?
- What am I doing that is working?
- What am I doing that is slowing me down?
- What can I do to change?
While you can ponder anything during your meditation session, these questions can offer you helpful places to start if you’re new or if you’re experiencing a lack of focus.
Seeking Proper Feedback
Introspection generally works best with effective external information. Many people who lack self-awareness might seek only positive criticism—which may make them unlikely to have clear external self-awareness. Because internal and external self-awareness can be linked through introspection, poor external self-awareness can significantly distort an introspective process.
The key to avoiding this risk, for many, is to seek feedback from individuals who are known to be honest and constructive. Negative and hypercritical feedback can reduce the effectiveness of introspection, possibly introducing negative thought processes that should be avoided by many. A similar problem can occur with unbalanced positive feedback. If the person providing feedback isn’t able to be entirely honest, it may not help to improve external self-awareness.
Keeping a journal of thoughts, feelings and actions can be an effective method for improving self-awareness. Journaling generally has two significant benefits in this context: It can empower a person to "re-live" or revisit relevant thoughts and feelings, possibly aiding in introspection. It can also be useful for understanding emotion, as merely identifying and logging an emotional state can lead to significant improvement in one’s self-awareness.
We do want to note: There is not generally a "correct" way to journal, but journal entries that are designed to work with introspective processes may be most effective if they include emotional information, notable events and insights that you remember occurring "in the moment”.
No matter what method you use to strengthen your skill, introspection remains a powerful tool for many, if used properly. It can give you a deeper understanding of your conscious experience as well as your unconscious experience, encouraging you to look beyond the surface level of how you’re feeling.
How Can Online Therapy Help?
Online therapy can allow you to visit with a licensed, experienced therapist from the comfort of your own home—which can be a more accessible and attainable treatment method for many. Attending therapy online removes possible common barriers to visiting a therapist, like travel time and service area restrictions.
Is Online Therapy Helpful To Those Wanting To Build Self-Awareness?
If you're concerned about your self-awareness, a licensed therapist can help provide guidance on introspection, as well as other techniques that can help you to explore your own mind. A therapist can also address relevant mental health concerns using evidence-based techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Even though you'll participate in therapy from home, the methods used are the same as those used in the office and research in cognitive science has shown them to be just as effective.
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. 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 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.
Is It Being Used Today?
Introspection is used today in therapy for people looking within themselves, figuring out who they are and what behaviors help or hinder them. The role of introspection in therapy is to help people come to terms with what’s working for them and what isn’t. Introspection is considered a philosophy of mind.
Is It Good Or Bad?
For some people, too much introspection can be overwhelming, which 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’s important to pay attention to how you’re feeling when doing introspection. If it’s too much, back off for the time being and return when you feel refreshed.
Is It 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 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 the role of introspection and how it can help you. You can also 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. 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 mind philosophy. 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 interrelated. 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 entirely 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 its impact 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 Introspection 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 over time. 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.
According to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, there is 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 gives 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.
How Do I Become More Introspective?
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 or full personal assessments that ask questions about your feelings, such efforts improve the value of thoughts created, leading to clarity of how things affect you.
How Can BetterHelp Help Me With My Introspection?
When clients give 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 determine how to look at yourself impartially.
What type of psychology used introspection?
Why do we use introspection in psychology?
What is the role of introspection in human life?
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