Herbart & Apperception Research Paper Starter

Herbart & Apperception

(Research Starters)

Johann Herbart was a German philosopher and psychologist born in 1776. Herbart looked scientifically at pedagogy and created a method of instruction still used today; he is most famous for his theory of apperception and his five-step model of instruction. Herbart studied under Immanuel Kant and utilized Kant's ideas of humanism and individualism in his research and within his teaching. Much of Herbart's work was created out of his own experiences as a tutor, professor, scientist, and philosopher.

Keywords Aesthetic Perception; Analysis; Apperception; Educational Psychology; Educational Philosophy; Herbartianism; Pedagogy; Synthesis


Johann Herbart’s name was not well-known until his students furthered his work after his death in 1841. Herbart was a psychologist who took the science of his field and combined it with the concept of pedagogy, creating teaching methods still used today. Much of Herbart's work was created out of his own experiences as a tutor, professor, scientist, and philosopher. He studied in Germany under Immanuel Kant, a well-known philosopher in the mid 1700's. To truly understand Herbart, one must first understand Kant.

Kant's Influence

Kant believed that the only way to really know something was to experience it for oneself. For example, a person following Kant's philosophy would not believe that the sun is yellow simply because someone told him that was the case. A student of Kant's would have to see the sun's yellowness himself to make that deduction. In addition to experience, Kant held that humanity should be the goal of all people in that within humanity, intimacy as a universal concept can be found. According to Minnich (1990),

To insist on both intimacy and universality, understood as regulative ideals rather than possible achievements, is to insist on openness to the individual, to the particular, as well as to the general, the universal. Intimacy is a mode of relation that refuses generalizations: to be intimate means to break through what someone is in order to become open to who s/he is, to experience this person as she is herself, not as she seems to be when filtered through pre-judgments (p. 182).

As Kant's student, Herbart followed this idea of humanism by seeing the concept of education as a humanistic endeavor, inclusive of effective socialization, sympathy for others, and teaching as one source of education. In his book, entitled General Pedagogics, Herbart almost apologizes for his view. "I confess [...] that I have no notion of education without teaching just as, by corollary, at least for the purposes of this publication, I recognize no teaching which does not educate" (Herbart, 1982b, p. 22, as cited in Hilgenheger, 1993, p. 7). As a child, Herbart was tutored, and he took that experience and related it to tutoring his own students; in doing so he transcended teaching as a process of doing something to somebody and created a methodology of educating as a form of enlightenment.

That enlightenment established a firm distinction between teaching and educating. Teaching does not assure education; it does, however, assure the activity of one person and the passivity of another. Educating, on the other hand, ensures the active participation of all; a child and her parents, a priest and his neighbor, a professor and a class of students, etc. The basis for education in these examples is socialization as much as the conveying of information. Children learn constantly but can only be considered educated when they apply new information to that which they already know. Once connections are made between the old and new information, that new information will be kept for later use, which is the basis of Herbart's theory of apperception.

The Theory of Apperception

Apperception (assimilating new information based on previous perceptions) is an activity experienced on a regular basis by just about everyone. Herbart labeled the concept as a theory and extended it to the philosophy of pedagogy, more specifically, knowledge acquisition. Herbart contends that in order to learn a concept, a person needs to relate (by assimilation) that concept to what he already knows. Apperception is related to application in that what cannot be applied cannot be perceived.

For example, within the study of statistics, students are exposed to the concept of probability. In many instances, this is explained through generalizations about using a deck of cards. However, predicting the likelihood that a black ace will be the next card flipped over while randomly overturning cards is an application lost on most students. As such, students make temporary room for this knowledge in their consciousness until the material has been tested. As there is little use for this knowledge past the testing phase, students tend to lose it to an idea that is necessary (more easily applied, that is) for daily living, like driving a car or manipulating mom and dad.

Studying apperception and learning, Navaz (2013) investigated the perception and practice of lecturers and students with regard to lecturer-student interaction in English-language science lectures at a Sri Lankan university where English is a second language. He concluded that “dialogic lecturer-student interaction, which enables students to take a more active role in discussions … is likely to be beneficial for students’ lecture comprehension and language development” (Navaz, 2013).

According to Herbart, studying literature and history lead to a form of learning that is most applicable to students, that of aesthetic knowledge. Math and science, on the other hand, are the keys to truly understanding concepts of psychology (Watson, 1978). Within each experience we have, Herbart saw pieces of information combining to create individual ideas. Each idea is then placed in our minds for future use, like putting money in a bank. As Watson (1978) points out, the ideas can work against each other.

One idea may be so much a hindrance to another that the second is not even available in consciousness. This hindered idea, although not in consciousness, still exists ... Ideas may arrest, but they cannot destroy one another. When the hindrance is lifted, the idea will again appear in consciousness (Watson, 1978, p. 32-33).

In this regard, we never lose the concepts we truly learn. Multiplication is an example of this. As children, we learn multiplication tables and are able to figure out even the most complex problems without the use of a calculator. Once we learn the technology of math, we have little use for calculating multiplication problems in our heads. Yet, when called upon to do so, we still have the skills to carry out problem solving strategies like carrying numbers and using a zero to mark the hundredths place. As we experience the world around us, we create ideas about our surroundings. What is not essential in the here and now (multiplication calculations, for example), we simply store for later use.

According to apperception, interest is the key to motivation and education. When we experience something new that sparks our interest, it invades our conscious awareness while our mind (without us noticing) searches our unconsciousness for a connection between the new concept and what we have already experienced. The new idea will only be deemed important if it can be connected to some other idea; if it can't, the idea is lost - predicting a black card, for example, is interesting but not something so interesting it needs to push out a separate, more important concept, like how to drive using a manual transmission. .FT.-In experiments related to apperception, learning, and memory published in 2013, however, Rerko and Oberauer challenged such theories as the limited-number-of-slots or limited-resource theories of attention and memory, whereby one learned idea “pushes out” another one. Their study investigated the effect of selection cues in working memory (WM) on the fate of not-selected contents of WM, and their experiments showed that focusing on one cued item in WM does not impair memory for the remaining items. The nonfocused items are maintained in WM even when this is not required by the task. Additional experiments showed that items that were once focused on in WM remain strengthened after the focus shifts away from them (Rerko & Oberauer, 2013).

Herbart based his apperception theory on his own experience as a tutor and a teacher. At the University of Jena, Herbart lectured in both philosophy and pedagogy. He wrote many books on the topic of pedagogy, but his method of instruction isn't notable (in most research) until he accepted a position at the University of Königsberg. Taking over Kant's role as dual chair in the departments of philosophy and pedagogy, Herbart strengthened his teaching practice using his own classes as a basis for experimentation. He practiced...

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