At times, when you experience an emotion like anger or fear, you begin to think of reasons for that state of mind of yours.
You say, “Why have I been annoyed over this or that? Why have I been afraid of such things”? The analysis of your emotional state may take place simultaneously with the emotion or it may be done after the emotional state is over. In whatever manner it is done, it gives you an understanding, though rudimentary of your mind. This method of probing into your mental processes is a method of introspection used by psychologists in a much-refined manner.
Let us see in detail what do we mean by Introduction along with its merits and demerits.
What we mean by introspection:
Introspection is a method of self-observation. The word ‘Introspection is made up of two Latin words. “Intro” meaning within and “Spection” meaning looking. Hence it is a method where an individual is looking within one self.
Angel considered it as “looking inward”. In introspection, the individual peeps into his own mental state and observes his own mental processes.
Stout considers that ‘to introspect‘ is to attend to the working of one‘s own mind in a systematic way‘.
Introspection method is one of the oldest methods to collect data about the conscious experiences of the subject. It is a process of self – examination where one perceives, analyses and reports one‘s own feelings. Let us learn this process with the help of an example, suppose you are happy and in the state of happiness you look within yourself. It is said you are introspecting your own mental feelings and examining what is going on in your mental process in the state of happiness. Similarly, you may introspect in a state of anger or fear; etc Introspection is also defined as the notice, which the mind takes of itself.
Let us see the stages of introspection.
There are three clear stages in introspection.
1. During the observation of external object, the person beings to ponder over his own mental state. For example While listening to music, which is to him pleasant or unpleasant, he starts thinking about his own mental state.
2. The person begins to question the working of his own mind. He thinks and analyses: Why has he said such and such thing? Why has he talked in a particular manner? And so on.
3. He tries to frame the laws and conditions of mental processes: He thinks in terms of improvement of his reasoning or the control of his emotional stages. This stage helps in the advancement of our scientific knowledge.
Characteristics of Introspection:
Introspection, being self- observation, has the following characteristics:
1. The subject gets direct, immediate and intuitive knowledge about the mind.
2. The subject has actually to observe his own mental processes. He cannot speculate about them.
Introspection Method was widely used in the past. Its use in modern time is being questioned. It is considered unscientific and not in keeping with psychology which has recently emerged out as a positive science. However it is still being used by psychologists and though its importance is being questioned it is not totally discarded.
Merits of Introspection Method:
Ø It is the cheapest and most economical method of studying behaviour. We do not need any apparatus or laboratory for its use.
Ø This method can be used any time and anywhere. You can introspect while walking, traveling, sitting on a bed & so on.
Ø It is the easiest method and is readily available to the individual.
Ø The introspection data is first-hand as the person himself examines his own activities.
Ø Introspection has generated research which gradually led to the development of more objective methods.
Ø It is still used in all experimental investigation.
Ø It is the only method with the help of which an individual can know his emotions and feelings.
William James has pointed out the importance of this method in these words. “Introspective observation is what we have to rely on first and foremost and always. The word introspection can hardly be defined-it means, of course, looking into our own minds and reporting what we there discover. Everyone agrees that there are states of consciousness. So far as I know, the existence of such states has never been doubted by my critics, however skeptical in other respects they may have been.”
Limitations of Introspection Methods:
Ø In introspection, one needs to observe or examine one‘s mental processes carefully in the form of thoughts, feeling and sensation. The state of one‘s mental processes is continuously changing. Therefore when one concentrates on introspecting a particular phase of one‘s mental activity that phase passes off. For example when you get angry at something and afterwards sit down to introspect calmly, the state of anger is sure to have passed off and so what you try to observe is not what is happening at that time with yourself but what had happened sometime before.
Ø The data collected by introspection cannot be verified. An individual may not pass through the same mental state again. There is no independent way of checking the data.
Ø The data collected by introspection lacks validity and reliability. It is impossible to acquire validity and exactness in self- observation of one‘s own mental processes.
Ø The data collected by introspection in highly subjective. It has danger of being biased and influenced by preconceptions of the individual.
Ø The observer and the observed are the same. Hence there is ample scope for the individual to lie deliberately and hide the facts to mislead others.
Ø Introspection cannot be applied to children, animal and abnormal people.
Ø Introspection is logically defective because one and the same person is the experimenter and observer. It is not possible for the same individual to act as an experimenter as well as an observer. Thus introspection is logically defective.
The limitations of introspection can be overcome by practice and training, by remaining alert during introspection and by comparing results obtained by experts.