Introspection is the process by which directly examining one’s own conscious, mental stress, thoughts and feelings. In psychology, the process of introspection relies on the observation of one’s mental state, while in a spiritual context it may refer to the examination of one’s soul. Introspection is closely related to human self-reflection, self-discovery and contrasted with external observation. The word Introspection was introduced by EB Titchener.

Introspection generally provides a privileged access to one’s own mental states, which are not mediated by other sources of knowledge, so that individual experience of the mind is unique. Introspection can determine any number of mental states including: sensory, bodily, cognitive, emotional and so forth.

Introspection has been a subject of philosophical discussion for thousands of years. The philosopher Plato asked, “why should we not calmly and patiently review our own thoughts, and thoroughly examine and see what these appearances in us really are?’.  While introspection is applicable to many facets of philosophical thought it is perhaps best known for its role in epistemology.  In this context introspection is often compared with perception, reason, memory, and testimony as a source of knowledge.

Stages of Introspection: Followings are the stages of Introspection.

  •  During the observation of an external object, the person beings to think over his own mental state.
  • The person beings to question the working of his own mind.
  •  He tries to frame the laws and conditions of mental process.

Characteristics of Introspection: Followings are the characteristics features of the Introspection.

  •  The observatory subject gets direct, immediate and intuitive knowledge about the mind.
  • The observatory subject has actually to observe his own mental processes.  He cannot speculate about them.

Merits of Introspection: Introspection is the oldest method of educational psychology. Introspection means ‘self observation’, which means to look into one’s own mental state. In this method the individual is both the subject and the observer. Introspection has generated a lot of research in experimental studies.

1. It is an easy and simple method and provides direct observation of mental processes. By other scientific methods, the mental processes cannot be directly observed since those are purely private and personal experiences.

2. Introspection is the only method by which the person can be directly aware of his own experiences.

3. While using experimental method to study the mental activities, a laboratory and scientific instruments are required. But for the use of introspection method, no laboratory or test materials are required. So introspection method can be used at any time and at any place.

4. The subjective observation method provides an opportunity to check the results obtained through other methods. For example, the general finding is that the pleasant materials are better remembered than the unpleasant materials. Suppose, in an experiment the results suggested that the unpleasant materials were better remembered than the pleasant materials. The reason for this unexpected finding can be found from the introspective report given by the subject. The subject might have reported that he was inattentive or mentally disturbed or feeling unwell when the pleasant materials were presented to him. Here the introspective report would be helpful in explaining the results.

5. Contemplation is the least demanding of all strategies for instructive brain research.

6. It needn’t bother with any device or research facility as the subject and the examiner is the same.

 7. It is the most efficient strategy and one which empowers us to think about the mental condition of an individual, i.e. his feelings and sentiments.

8. Reflection, as a strategy, has produced a considerable measure of examination and is utilized as a part of every single exploratory understudy.

9. It is the cheapest and most economical method. We do not need any apparatus or laboratory for its use.

10. This method can be used anytime and anywhere you can introspect while walking, travelling, and sitting on a bed & so on.

11. It is the easiest method and is readily available to the individual.

12. The introspection data are first hand as the person himself examines his own activities.

13. Introspection has generated research which gradually led to the development of more objective methods.

14. It is still used in all experimental investigation.

15. It is the only method with the help of which and individual can know his emotions and feelings.

Demerits of Introspection: Introspection is limited in its use; complex subjects such as learning, personality, mental disorders, and development are difficult or even impossible to study with this technique. The technique is difficult to use with children and impossible to use with animals. Followings are the demerits of Introspection.

(a)The observer is expected to perform two mental activities simultaneously. He experiences his mental processes, and at the same time analyzes what these experiences were like. At the same time, he acts as the ‘observed’, and the ‘observer’. Obviously, his mental experiences would be distorted, and not reflect the true nature of mental activities.

(b)The subjective observational report provided lacks objectivity, as the verbal report of the subject cannot be verified by other scientists. Furthermore, the experiences of one person cannot be generalized to understand the mental activity of another person. A universal principle concerning the mental processes cannot be stated, as mental processes would differ from person to person. Thus, the method lacks scientific validity.

(c)Most persons would not like to reveal their private experiences such as the feelings of guilt and shame. The report in such cases would be distorted

(d)The method of subjective observation cannot be applied to the study of the mental activities of the animals, children, insane, and persons having language disabilities. The behaviors of these subjects are of interest to the psychologists. Thus, introspection has only a limited applicability.

(e)The unconscious experiences cannot be accessed through introspection. The psychoanalytic school founded by Freud argues that most of human behaviors are influenced by the unconscious motives and urges. A person cannot observe his unconscious mental processes, which means that the method of subjective observation leaves out a large chunk of relevant mental experiences.

Some psychologists have suggested that the inherent difficulties with the method of subjective observation can be overcome by observing the mental process after it ends. He will have to recall the experiences immediately after the anger or fear responses and will give a report. But Titchener and others did not give importance to this type of post-mortem examination. It was viewed that retrospection is not actual observation of the mental process, but simply the recall of experiences and analysis of memory. Such reports cannot be taken for granted as accurate.

William James has pointed out the importance of this Introspection 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 as it means, of course, looking into our own minds and reporting what we discover. Everyone agrees that we discover states of consciousness. So far as I know, the existence of such states has never been doubled by my critic, however sceptical in other respects we may have been.”

However, in the merits of Introspection, there are some limitations which fluctuates its impacts. But, In spite of the above mention merits the Introspection method is still used as a method in psychology, because it is the only method that provides direct observation of felling, emotion and mental process.