Difference Between Structuralism and Functionalism

Main Difference – Structuralism vs Functionalism

Structuralism and Functionalism are two advanced and earliest theories introduced in psychology that basically explain the scientific basis of various behavioral patterns and mindset observed in human beings. Being the first two formal theories introduced in psychology, both structuralism and functionalism have made a significant impact in the development of the subject. As far as the history of these two terms is concerned, structuralism was the first theory to be developed, and functionalism has been put forward as a response to structuralism. The main difference between structuralism and functionalism is that structuralism focuses on different brain elements and their capacities whereas functionalism is focused on the adaptation of human mind to different environments.

This article covers,

1. What is Structuralism – Theory of Structuralism, Drawbacks

2. What is Functionalism – Theory of Functionalism, Drawbacks

3. Key Differences Between Structuralism and Functionalism


Difference Between Structuralism and Functionalism- infographic

What is Structuralism

The theory of structuralism was first described by Wilhelm Wundt, who is known as the father of structural psychology. This term can be defined as the first objective theory in psychology which is used to assess the human mind by creating numerous basic subsectors within it. According to this theory, the process of analyzing an individual’s mind can be easily done by developing a demonstrable connection between various inner experiences such as emotions feelings and sensations. Interestingly, structuralism is found to be the hallmark theory which paved the way to establish the first psychological laboratory and also the first triumph to achieve a scientific explanation about how the human mind functions.

However, the main drawback of this theory is its dependency on inherently subjective maneuvers based on their introspection. In fact, participants engaging in the procedure will have to concentrate on their emotions and sensations so that they could be explained in detail to the experimenters later on. Also, its basis, which relied only on the subjective aspects of individual minds, clearly reduced its accuracy.

Due to these negative aspects of structuralism, this theory was  much criticized, and  another theory known as functionalism was created as a responsive explanation.

Difference Between Structuralism and Functionalism

Wundt in the first psychological laboratory

What is Functionalism

Functionalism is a theory based on the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin, which was introduced by William James, who is known as the father of functionalism theory.

The major factors explained in this theory are mainly based on accurate and systemic explanation on various elements of consciousness and behavior along with their purpose in life. It also concentrates on an individual’s mental health and behavior depending on his capability to get adapted to different environments. In contrast to Structuralism, this theory is less concentrated on identifying the composition of the human mind, and more concentrated on various adaptations of the human mind to different environments.

Furthermore, functionalism is also known to be focused on brain’s involvement on the betterment of people where it highlights the fact that no one will be able to survive in nature unless they fulfill their purpose for living.

However, the main drawbacks identified in this theory include its extreme focus on objective matters where the subjective tendencies of human behavior have been completely ignored.

Main Difference - Structuralism vs Functionalism

William James

Difference Between Structuralism and Functionalism


Structuralism is known to be a part of experimental psychology.

Functionalism was introduced as a counter argument to structuralism.


Structuralism mainly focuses on human mind and its basic elements are identified and analyzed through introspection.

Functionalism characteristically pays attention to more objective aspects of consciousness and highlights the necessity of analyzing the mind and behavior on the basis of their function.

Image Courtesy:

“Wundt research group” uploaded to Wikipedia by Kenosis – the English language Wikipedia (log), (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

“William James b1842c” By Notman Studios (photographer) – [1]MS Am 1092 (1185), Series II, 23, Houghton Library, Harvard University (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Embogama

Embogama is a passionate freelance writer for several years. Her areas of interest include general medicine, clinical medicine, health and fitness, Ayurveda medicine, psychology, counseling and piano music