Difference Between Structuralism and Functionalism


Main Difference

The main difference between Structuralism and Functionalism is that Structuralism is the scientific study of the structure of the mind, whereas Functionalism is the scientific study of functions of the mind.

Structuralism vs. Functionalism

Structuralism is a structure-related term. Functionalism is a function-related term. Structuralism deals with the structure of the mind. Functionalism deals with functions of the mind. Structuralism is an earlier term. Functionalism is a later term. Edward Titchener verified structuralism theory.

William James proved functionalism theory. The foundation of structuralism is introspection, while the basis of structuralism is the functions of the mind. Structuralism deals with the structure of elements of human culture. Functionalism describes how the human brain works.


Structuralism had defined the difference between perception and sensation. Functionalism cannot define sensation. Structuralism investigates the consciousness into elements. Functionalism scrutinizes the functions of consciousness of the human brain.

Structuralism does not define behavior on the flip side functionalism defines the behavior. Structuralism works on organs of the mind; each organ or part is examined on an individual basis. Functionalism examines the whole brain.

Structuralism is significant because it leads to the establishment of the first psychology laboratory. Functionalism is going for innovation in applied psychology. Structuralism works on basic units whereas the basic unit of functionalism is to adapt an organism to the environment.

The critics pointed out that structuralism lacks objectivity, and the results of introspection are mostly wrong. Functionalism is criticized for its irrelativity to the literature.


Comparison Chart

Structuralism is a scientific study of structures of the mind.Functionalism is a scientific study of functions of the mind.
Led By
Edward TitchenerWilliam James
Appeared firstReaction of functionalism
IntrospectionFunctions of the mind
Structure of mindHow does the mind work?
Consciousness into elementsFunctions of consciousness
A first major school of psychologyDevelopment of applied psychology
Lack of reliability in resultsIt is not literature
Organs of mindWhole mind
Basic unitsOrganism’s adaptation

What is Structuralism?

Structuralism is a method in which we observe elements of human culture. It studies a broad relationship with their structure. It works on all the structures of the human mind like how it thinks, how it works. Structuralism is an early development in the 19th century in Europe, Russia, France, and other states.

It is a multidiscipline subject that can be applied in sociology, psychology, architecture, economics, etc. It studies the mind in the form of some basic units. Their main concern is these units. It led to the first scientific laboratory of psychology and studied the human mind. It is the first-ever proposed theory in psychology that separated this discipline from philosophy and literature.

Edward Titchener, who was a pupil of Wilhelm Wundt, was the one person who proposed structuralism. He did experiments and was the first person who analyzed that there is a specific difference between sensation and perception. It links the mind with different inner sensations and feelings. The basis of structuralism is introspection.

It is the process of observation of feelings and the sensation of one’s mind. Many controversies came forward regarding structuralism. The main was that it lacks objectivity. Some stated that the results of structuralism are not accurate.

When people observe their feelings, the chances of wrong observation were high in this perspective. The focus of structuralism is to divide the brain into some basic units and then study that basic unit as an individual. Structuralism is to understand the structural characters of the human brain.

What is Functionalism?

Functionalism is a scientific study of functions of the brain. It is an aspect of psychology that works on the functions of the brain and how a person adjusts to the environment. How does it work? Functionalism is a reaction to structuralism theory.

Many scientists did not agree with the theory of structuralism; thus, functionalism theory came forward. William James was an American scientist who proposed functionalism. According to him, we can observe a different side of psychology and how it operates.

James uses Darwin’s theory of natural selection to explain the term that an organism adapts to its environment by natural selection. The study of behavior comes under functionalism. It focuses on the adaptation of an organism to its environment.

Adaptation shows an organism can reproduce and can survive in its surroundings. Hence the study of behavior in an aspect of function is called functionalism. The main objective of functionalism is to study the whole mind of an individual and not divide it into parts for a separate study.

This term brought modernity to evolutionary psychology. This field developed an interest in mind testing, development patterns, educational preferences, and differences in moods and behaviors of different sexes.

However, functionalism has faced many controversies. Some stated that it is not part of the literature. Its main drawback is it does not tell about sensations. It prefers the study of consciousness functions rather than studying the structures of the mind.

Key Differences

  1. Structuralism is a scientific study of structures and properties of the brain, whereas functionalism is the scientific study of functions of the mind.
  2. Structuralism is found by Titchener, a student of Wilhelm Wundt, the first person who discussed this aspect of psychology while functionalism was found by William James, the person who proposed against structuralism.
  3. Structuralism came first in history on the flip side functionalism is a reaction to structuralism.
  4. Structuralism theory works by observing the feelings of mind of a person while a functionalism basis is on functions of the human mind.
  5. Structuralism describes the basic structural properties of the human mind. Conversely, functionalism tells how the brain works?
  6. Structuralism studies the consciousness of elements of the mind, whereas functionalism studies the functions of consciousness elements.
  7. Structuralism is important because it leads to the development of the first scientific laboratory of psychology; on the other hand, functionalism leads to the development of applied psychology.
  8. Structuralism theory faced criticism that it lacks objectivity on the flip side functionalism faced criticism that it is not literature.
  9. Structuralism analyzes the different organs of the brain while functionalism analyzes the whole brain of the individual.
  10. Structuralism divides elements of the brain into some basic units, then focuses on these basic units on the flip side functionalism focuses on an organism’s behavior and how it adapts to its environment.


Structuralism and Functionalism are theories of psychology that observe the mind state of an organism. A structuralism study basis is introspection. A functionalism basis is organisms’ adaptation is the environment.

Aimie Carlson

Aimie Carlson is an English language enthusiast who loves writing and has a master degree in English literature. Follow her on Twitter at @AimieCarlson