A primary goal for structuralism was to identify the basic elements of consciousness. Titchener reasoned that any science requires an observation of its subject matter, and psychology was no different. As detailed in Titch-ener's classic work Experimental Psychology: A Manual of Laboratory Practice (4 vols., 1901-1905), introspection involved the systematic analysis and reporting of conscious experiences by highly trained researchers. Such individuals were trained to report on the most basic of sensory experiences and to avoid the stimulus error of reporting perceptual interpretations. For example, to report seeing "an apple" or having "a headache" would be a stimulus error. It would be more accurate, psychologically, to report seeing a "roundish, red object" or experiencing a "throbbing sensation of moderate intensity in the lower right part of the head." This methodology was used by Wundt, but Wundt emphasized quantitative judgments (such as size, weight, duration, or intensity), whereas in Titchener's system, descriptive reports were emphasized.

Titchener concluded that there were three basic elements of consciousness: sensations, images, and feelings. Sensations were the most fundamental and were the building blocks of all perceptions. In his An Outline of Psychology (1896), Titchener listed more than forty-four thousand elementary sensations, including approximately thirty-two thousand visual, twelve thousand auditory, and four taste sensations. It was held that these indivisible sensations could be combined in any number of ways to produce unique perceptions and ideas. Images are the building blocks for ideas and reflect previous sensory experiences. It is possible to have an image of an apple only because of past experiences with a particular combination of sensations. All feelings were viewed as reducible to experiencing a degree of pleasantness or unpleasantness. (In contrast, Wundt postulated two other dimensions: strain/relaxation and excitement/calmness.) A feeling, when combined with certain sensations, can give rise to a complex emotional state, such as love, joy, disgust, or fear.

Later in his career, Titchener asserted that each element of consciousness could be characterized with regard to five basic dimensions: quality, intensity, protensity (duration), attensity (clearness), and extensity (space). Quality refers to the differentiation of sensations (an apple may be red or green; the water may be hot or cold). Intensity refers to the strength or magnitude of the quality (the extent to which the apple is red or the water is cold). Protensity refers to the duration or length of a sensory experience. Attensity refers to the clarity or vividness of the experience and reflects the process of attention (sensations are clearer when they are the focus of attention). Some sensations, especially visual and tactile ones, can also be characterized in terms of extensity (that is, they take up a certain amount of space). Feelings were characterized only in terms of quality, intensity, and protensity. Titchener believed that feelings dissipated when they were the subject of focused attention and therefore could not be experienced with great clarity.

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