When psychology was first established as a science separate from biology and philosophy, the debate over how to describe and explain the human mind and behavior began. The first two major schools of psychology to emerge during this time were known as structuralism and functionalism.

Structuralism emerged as the first school of thought and some of the ideas associated with the structuralist school were advocated by the founder of the first psychology lab, Wilhelm Wundt. One of Wundt's students, an man named Edward B. Tichener, would later go on to formally establish and name structuralism, although he broke away from many of Wundt's ideas and at times even misrepresented the teachings of his mentor.

Almost immediately other theories surfaced to vie for dominance in psychology. In response to structuralism, an American perspective known as functionalism emerged under the influence of thinkers such as Charles Darwin and William James.

In 1906, Mary Whiton Calkins published an article in Psychological Reviewasking for a reconciliation between these two schools of thought.

Structuralism and functionalism were not so different, she argued, since both are principally concerned with the conscious self. Despite this, each side continued to cast aspersions on the other. William James wrote that structuralism had "plenty of school, but no thought" (James, 1904), while Wilhelm Wundt dismissed functionalism as "literature" rather than the science.

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