The introspection method has advantages as well as disadvantages. First, let us consider the advantages.
Advantages of Introspection Method:
i. 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. Introspection is the only method by which the person can be directly aware of his own experiences.
ii. 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.
iv. 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.
In spite of some advantages, the method of introspection or subjective observation has some disadvantages.
Disadvantages of Introspection Method:
i. 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.
ii. 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.
iii. 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
iv. 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.
v. 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. This is known as “retrospection”, or backward introspection. In retrospection, one is asked to give a report about his mental process after the mental activity ends. In case of anger or fear, he will give a report about his experiences after the anger or fear responses end. 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.
In spite of the above-mentioned limitations, Introspection method is still used as a method in psychology, because it is the only method that provides direct observation of mental processes.