Classical Texts in Psychology
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Outlines of Psychology
Wilhelm Max Wundt (1897)
II. PSYCHICAL COMPOUNDS
§14 VOLITIONAL PROCESSES.
1. Every emotion, made up, as it is, of a series of interrelated affective processes having a unitary character, may terminate in one of two ways. It may give place to the ordinary variable and relatively unemotional course of feelings. Such affective processes that fade out without any special result, constitute the emotions in the strict sense as discussed in the last paragraph. The process may, in a second class of cases, pass into a sudden change in sensational and affective content, which brings the emotion to an instantaneous close; such changes in the sensational and affective state which are prepared for by an emotion and bring about its sudden end, are called volitional acts. The emotion itself together with its result is a volitional process.
A volitional process is thus related to an emotion as a process of a higher stage, in the same way that an emotion is related to a feeling. Volitional act is the name of only one part of the process, that part which distinguishes a volition from an emotion. The way to the development of volitions out of emotions is prepared by those emotions in connection with which external pantomimetic movements (p. 173) appear. These movements appear chiefly at the end of the process and generally hasten its completion; this is especially true of anger, but to some extent also of joy, care, etc. Still, in these mere emotions, the changes in the train of ideas which are the immediate causes of the momentary completion of the emotion in volitions and also the characteristic feelings attending these changes, are all wanting.
This close interconnection of volitional acts with pantomimetic movements necessarily leads us to look upon those volitions which end in certain bodily movements resulting from the preceding train of ideas and feelings, that is, those [p. 184] ending in external volitional acts, as the earliest stages in the development of volitions. The so-called internal volitional acts, on the other hand, or those which close simply with effects on ideas and feelings, appear in every case to be products of a more highly developed intelligence.
A volitional process that passes into an external act may be defined as an emotion which closes with a pantomimetic movement that has, in addition to the characteristics belonging to all such movements and due to the quality and intensity of the emotion, the special property of producing an external effect which removes the emotion itself. Such an effect is not possible for all emotions, but only for those which the very succession of component feelings produces feelings and ideas which are able to remove the preceding emotion. This is, of course, most commonly the case when the final result of the emotion is the direct opposite of the preceding feelings. The fundamental psychological condition for volitional acts is, therefore, the contrast between feelings, and the origin of the first volitions is most probably in all cases to be traced back to unpleasurable feelings that arouse external movements whose results are contrasted pleasurable feelings. The seizing of food to remove hunger, the struggle, against enemies to appease the feeling of revenge, and other, similar processes are original volitional processes of this kind. The emotions coming from sense-feelings, and the most wide spread social emotions, such as love, hate, anger, and revenge, are thus both for men and animals the common origin of will. A volition is distinguished in such cases from an emotion only by the fact that the former has added to its emotional components an external act that gives rise to feelings which, through contrast with the feelings contained in the emotion, bring the emotion itself to an end. The execution of the volitional act may then lead directly, as was originally [p. 185] always the case, or indirectly through an emotion of contrasted affective content, into the ordinary quiet flow of feelings.
3. The richer the ideational and affective contents of experience, the greater the variety of the emotions and the wider the sphere of volitions. There is no feeling or emotion that does not in some way prepare for a volitional act or at least have some part in such a preparation. All feelings, even those of a relatively indifferent character, contain in some degree an effort towards or away from some end. This effort may be very general and aimed merely at the maintenance or removal of the present affective state. While volitions appear as the most complex form of affective processes, presupposing all others --- that is, feelings and emotions -- as their components, still, we must not overlook the fact that single feelings continually appear which do not unite to form emotions, and emotions appear which do not end in volitional acts. In the total interconnection of psychical processes, however, these three stages condition one another and form the related parts of a single process which is complete only when it becomes a volition. In this sense a feeling may be thought of as the beginning of a volition, or a volition may be thought of as a composite affective process, and an emotion may be regarded as an intermediate stage between the two.
4. The single feelings in an emotion that closes with a volitional act are usually far from being of equal importance. Certain ones among them, together with their related ideas, are prominent as those which are most important in preparing for the act. Those combinations of ideas and feelings which in our subjective apprehension of the volition are the immediate antecedents of the act, are called motives of volition. Every motive may be divided into an ideational and [p. 186] an affective component. The first we may call the moving reason, the second the impelling force of action. When a beast of prey seizes his victim, the moving reason is the sight of the same, the impelling force may be either the unpleasurable feeling of hunger or the race-hate aroused by the sight. The reason for a criminal murder may be the removal of an enemy, or some such idea, the impelling force the feeling of want, hate, revenge, or envy.
When the emotions are, of composite character, the reasons and impelling forces are generally mixed, often to so great an extent that it would be difficult for the author of the act himself to decide which was the leading motive. This is due to the fact that the impelling forces of a volitional act combine, just as the elements of a composite feeling do, to form a unitary whole in which all other impulses are subordinated under a single predominating one; the feelings of like direction strengthening and accelerating the effect, those of opposite direction weakening it. In the combinations of ideas and feelings which we call motives, the deciding importance in preparing for the act of will belongs to the feelings, that is, to the impelling forces, rather than to the ideas. This follows from the very fact that feelings are integral components of the volitional process itself, while, the ideas are of influence only indirectly, through their connections with the feelings. The assumption of a volition arising from pure intellectual considerations, of a decision opposed to the inclinations expressed in the feelings, is a psychological contradiction in itself. It rests upon the abstract concept of a transcendental will absolutely distinct from actual psychical volitions.
5. The combination of a number of motives, that is, of ideas and feelings which are distinguished in the composite train of emotions to which they belong, as those determining [p. 186] the discharge of the act, furnish the essential conditions for the development of will, and also for the discrimination of the single forms of volitional action.
The simplest case of volition is that in which a single feeling in an emotion of suitable constitution, together with its accompanying idea, becomes a motive and brings the processes to a close with its corresponding external movement. Such volitional processes determined by a single motive, may be called simple volitions. The movements in which they terminate are often designated impulsive acts. In popular parlance, however, this definition of impulse by the simplicity of the motive, is not sufficiently adhered to. Another element, namely, the character of the feeling that acts as impelling force, is here usually brought in. All acts that are determined by sense-feelings, especially common feelings, are generally called impulsive acts without regard to whether only a single motive or a plurality of motives is operative. This basis of discrimination is psychologically inappropriate and the complete separation of impulsive from volitional acts as a specifically distinct kind of psychical processes, which follows very naturally from it, is entirely unjustifiable.
By impulsive act, then. we mean a simple volitional act, that is, one resulting from a single motive, without reference to the position of this motive in the series of affective and ideational processes. Impulsive action, thus defined, must necessarily be the starting point for the development of all volitional acts, even though it may continue to appear along with the complex volitional acts. To be sure, the earliest impulsive acts are those which come from sense-feeling. In this sense most of the acts of animals are impulsive, but such impulsive acts appear continually in the case of man, partly as the results of simple sense-emotions, partly as the [p. 188] products of the habitual execution of certain volitional acts which were originally determined by complex motives.
6. When several feelings and ideas in the same emotion tend to produce external action, and when those components of an emotional train which have become motives tend at the same time towards different external ends, whether related or antagonistic, then there arises out of the simple act a complex volitional process. In order to distinguish this from the impulsive acts that precede it in the line of development, we call it a voluntary act.
Voluntary and impulsive acts have in common the characteristic of proceeding from single motives, or from complexes of motives that have fused together and operate as a single unequivocal impelling force. They differ in the fact that in voluntary acts the decisive motive has risen to do dominance from among a number of simultaneous and antagonistic motives. When a clearly perceptible strife between these antagonistic motives precedes the act, we call the volition by the particular name selective act, and the process preceding it a choice. The predominance of one over other simultaneous motives can be understood only when we presuppose such a strife in every case. But we perceive this strife now clearly, now obscurely, and now not at all. Only in the first case can we speak of a selective act in the proper sense. The distinction between voluntary and selective acts is by no means hard and fast. Still, in ordinary voluntary acts the psychical state is more like that in impulsive acts, while the difference between the latter and selective acts is clearly recognizable.
7. The psychical process immediately preceding the act, in which the final motive suddenly gains the ascendency, is called in the case of voluntary acts resolution, in the case of selective acts decision. The first word indicates merely [p. 189] that action is to be carried out in accordance with some consciously adopted motive; the second implies that several courses of action have been presented as possible and that a choice has finally been made.
In contrast to the first stages of a volition, which can not be clearly distinguished from an ordinary emotional process, the last stages are absolutely characteristic. They are especially marked by accompanying feelings that never appear anywhere but in volitions, and must therefore be regarded as the specific elements peculiar to will. These feelings are first of all those of resolution and of decision. The latter differs from the former only in its greater intensity. They are both exciting and relaxing feelings, and may be united under various circumstances with pleasurable or unpleasurable factors. The relatively greater intensity of the feeling of decision is probably due to its contrast with the preceding feeling of doubt which attends the wavering between different motives. Its opposition to this doubt gives the feeling of relaxation a greater intensity. At the moment when the volitional act begins, the feelings of resolution and decision give place to the specific feeling of activity, which has its sensational substratum, in the case of external volitional acts, in the inner tactual sensation accompanying the movement. This feeling of activity is clearly exciting in its character, and is, according to the special motives of the volition, accompanied now by pleasurable, now by unpleasurable elements, which may in turn vary in the course of the, act and alternate with one another. As a total feeling, this feeling of activity is a rising and falling temporal process extending through the whole act and finally passing into the most various feelings, such as those of fulfilment, satisfaction, or disappointment, or into the feelings and emotions connected with the special result of the act. Taking [p. 190] the process as seen in voluntary and selective acts as complete, volitional acts, we must distinguish compulsive acts from them essentially by the absence of the antecedent feelings of resolution and decision. The feeling connected with the motive passes in the latter case directly into that of activity, and then into those which correspond to the effect of the act.
8. The transition from simple to complex volitional acts brings with it a number of other changes which are of great importance for the development of will. The first of these changes is to be found in the fact that the emotions which introduce the volitions lose their intensity more and more, as a result of the counteraction of different mutually inhibiting feelings, so that finally a volitional act may result from an apparently unemotional affective state. To be sure, emotion is never entirely wanting; in order that the motive which arises in an ordinary train of feelings may bring about a resolution or decision, it must always be connected with some degree of emotional excitement. This can, however, be so weak and transient that we overlook it. We do this the more easily the more we are inclined to unite a short emotion of this kind, attending merely the rise and action of the motive, with the resolution and execution in the single concept of a volitional act. This weakening of the emotions results mainly from the combinations of psychical processes which we call intellectual development and of which we shall treat more fully in the discussion of the interconnection of psychical compounds (§ 17). Intellectual processes can, indeed, never do away with emotions they are, on the contrary, in many cases the sources of new and characteristic emotions. A volition entirely without emotion, determined by a purely intellectual motive, is, as already remarked (p. 186), a psychological impossibility. Still, intellectual development exercises beyond a doubt a moderating influence [p. 191] on emotions, particularly on those that prepare the way for volitional acts wherever intellectual motives enter into them. This may be due partly to the counteraction of the feelings which is generally present, partly to the slow development of intellectual motives, for in general emotions are the stronger the more rapidly their component feelings rise.
9. Connected with this moderation of the emotional components of volitions under the influence of intellectual motives is still another change. It consists in the fact that the act which closes the volition is not an external movement. The effect which removes the exciting emotion is itself a psychical process that does not show itself directly through any external symptom whatever. Such an effect which is imperceptible for objective observers is called an internal volitional act. The transition from external to internal volitional acts is so bound up with intellectual development that the very character of the intellectual processes themselves are to be explained to a great extent by the influence of volitions on the train of ideas (§ 15, 9). The act that closes the volition in such a case is some change in the train of ideas, which follows the preceding motives as the result of some resolution or decision. The feelings that accompany these acts of immediate preparation, and the feeling of activity connected with the change itself, agree entirely with those observed in the case of external volitional acts. Furthermore, action is followed by more or less marked feelings of satisfaction, of removal of preceding emotional and affective strain, so that obviously the only difference between these special volitions connected with the intellectual development and the earlier forms, is to be found in the fact that here the final effect of the volition does not show itself in an external bodily movement.
Still, we may have a bodily movement as the secondary [p. 192] result of an internal volitional act, when the resolution refers to an external act to be executed at some later time. In such a case the act itself always results from a special external volition whose decisive motives come from the preceding internal volition, but which we must consider as a new process distinct from the earlier. Thus, for example, the formation. of a resolution to execute an act in the future under certain expected conditions, is an internal volition, while the later, performance of the act is an external action different from the first, but requiring it as a necessary antecedent. It is evident that where an external volitional act arises from a decision after a conflict among the motives, we have a transition in which it is impossible to distinguish clearly between the two kinds of volition, namely that consisting in a single unitary process and that made up of two such processes, an internal and an external. In such a transitional form, if the decision is at all separated in time from the act itself, it may be regarded as an internal volitional act preparatory to the execution.
10. These two changes connected with the development of will, namely, the moderation of emotions and the rendering independent of internal volitions, are changes of aggressive order. In contrast with these there is a third process or one of retrogradation. When complex volitions with the same motive are often repeated, the conflict between the motives grows less intense; the opposing motives that were, overcome in earlier cases grow weaker and finally disappears
entirely. The complex act has then passed into a simple, or impulsive act. This retrogradation of complex volitional, processes into impulsive processes shows clearly the utter inappropriateness of the limitation of the concept "impulsive" to acts of will arising from sense-feelings. As a result of the gradual elimination of opposing motives, there are, [p. 193] intellectual, moral, and aesthetic, as well as simple sensuous, impulsive acts.
This retrogradation is but one step in a process that unites all the external acts of a living being, both the volitional acts and the automatic reflex movements. When the habituating practice of certain acts is carried further, the determining motives finally become, even in impulsive acts, weaker and more transient. The external stimulus originally aroused a strongly affective idea which operated as a motive, but now it causes the discharge of the act before it can be apprehended as an idea. In this way the impulsive movement finally becomes an automatic movement. The more often this automatic movement is repeated, the easier it, in turn, becomes, even when the stimulus is not sensed, as, for example, in deep sleep or during complete diversion of the attention. The movement now appears as a pure physiological reflex, and the volitional process has become a simple reflex process.
This gradual reduction of volitional to mechanical processes, which depends essentially on the elimination of all the elements between the physical beginning and end of the act, may take place either in the case of movements that were originally impulsive or in that of movements which have secondarily become such through the retrogradation of voluntary acts. It is not improbable that all the reflex movements of both animals and men originate in this way. As evidence for this we have, besides the reduction of volitional acts to pure mechanical processes through practice, as described above, also the appropriate character of reflexes, which point to the presence at some time of a purposive idea as motive. Furthermore, the circumstance that the movements of the lowest animals are all evidently simple volitional acts, not reflexes, tells for the same view, so that here [p. 194] too there is no justification for the assumption frequently made that acts of will have been developed from reflex movements. Finally, we can most easily explain from this point of view the facts mentioned in § 13 (p. 172), that expressive movements may belong to any one of the forms possible in the scale of external acts. Obviously the simplest movements are impulsive acts, while many complicated pantomimetic movements probably came originally from voluntary acts which passed first into impulsive and then into reflex movements. Observed phenomena make it necessary to assume that the retrogradations that begin in the individual life are gradually carried further through the transmission of acquired dispositions, so that certain acts which were originally voluntary may appear ill later descendants from the first as impulsive or reflex movements (§ 19 and § 20).
10a. For reasons similar to those given in the case of emotions, the observation of volitional processes that come into experience by chance, is an inadequate and easily misleading method for establishing the actual facts in the case. Wherever internal or external volitional acts are performed in meeting either the theoretical or practical demands of life, our interest is too much taken up in the action itself to allow us at the same time to observe with exactness the psychical processes that are going on. In the theories of volition given by older psychologists -- theories that very often cast their shadows in the science of to-day -- we have a clear reflection of the undeveloped state of the methods of psychological observation. External acts of will are the only ones in the whole sphere of volitional processes that force themselves emphatically on the attention of the observer. As a result the tendency was to limit the concept will to external volitional acts, and thus not only to neglect entirely the whole sphere so important for the higher development of will, namely, internal volitional acts, but also to pay very little attention to the components of the volition that are antecedent to the external acts, [p. 195] or at most only to the more striking ideational components of the motive. It followed that the close genetic interconnection between impulsive and voluntary acts was not observed, and that ,the former were regarded as not belonging to will, but as closely related to reflexes. Will was thus limited to the voluntary and selective actions. Furthermore, the one-sided consideration of the ideational components of the motives led to a complete oversight of the development of volitional acts from emotions, and the singular idea found acceptance that volitional acts are not the products of antecedent motives and of psychical conditions which act upon these motives and bring one of them into the ascendency, but that volition is a process apart from the motives and independent of them, a product of a metaphysical volitional faculty. This faculty was, on the ground of the limitation of the concept volition to voluntary acts, even defined as the choosing faculty of the mind, or as its faculty for preferring one from among the different motives that influence it. Thus, instead of deriving volition from the antecedent psychical conditions, the final result alone, the volitional act, was used to build up a general concept which was called will and this class-concept was treated in accordance with the faculty-theory as a first cause from which all concrete volitional acts arise. It was only a modification of this abstract theory when
Schopenhauer and, following him, many modern psychologists and philosophers declared that volition in itself is an "unconscious" occurrence which comes to consciousness only in its result, the volitional act. In this case, obviously, the inadequate observation of the volitional process preceding the act, has led to the assertion that no such process exists. Here, again, the whole variety of concrete volitional processes is supplanted by the concept of a single unconscious will, and the result for psychology is the same as before: in place of a comprehension of concrete psychical processes and their combination, an abstract concept is set up and then erroneously looked upon as a general cause.
Modern psychology and even experimental psychology is still to a great extent under the ban of this deep-rooted abstract doctrine of will. In denying from the first the possibility of explaining an act from the concrete psychical causality of the antecedent volitional process, it leaves as the only characteristic [p. 196] of an act of will the sum of the sensations that accompany the external act, and may immediately precede it as pale memo images in cases where the act has often been repeated. The physical excitations in the nervous system are regarded as the causes of the act. Here, then, the question of the causality is taken out of psychology and given over to physiology instead of to metaphysics, as in the theory discussed before. In reality, however, it is here too lost in metaphysics in attempting to cross to physiology. For physiology must, as an empirical science, abandon the attempt to give a complete causal explanation of a complex volitional act from its antecedents, not only for the present, but for all time, because this leads to the problem of an infinite succession. The only possible basis for such a theory is, therefore, the principle of materialistic metaphysics, that the so-called material processes are all that make up the reality of things and that psychical processes must accordingly be explained from material processes. But it is an indispensable principle of psychology as an empirical science, that it shall investigate the facts of psychical processes as they are presented in immediate experience, and that it shall not examine their interconnections from points of view that are entirely foreign to them (§ 1 and p. 17, sq.). It is impossible to find out how a volition proceeds in any other way than by following it exactly as it is presented to us in immediate experience. Here, however, it is not presented as an abstract concept, but as a concrete single volition. Of this particular volition, too, we know nothing except what is immediately perceptible in the process. We can know nothing of an unconscious or, what amounts to the same thing for psychology, a material process which is not immediately perceived but merely assumed hypothetically on the basis of metaphysical presuppositions. Such metaphysical assumptions are obviously merely devices to cover up an incomplete or entirely wanting psychological observation. The psychologist who pays attention to only the termination of the whole volitional process, will very easily hit upon the thought that the immediate cause of volition is some unconscious immaterial or material agent.
11. The exact observation of volitional processes is, for the reasons given above, impossible in the case of volitional [p. 177] acts that come naturally in the course of life; the only way in which a thorough psychological investigation can be made, is, therefore, that of experimental observation. To be sure, we can not produce volitional acts of every kind at will, but we must limit ourselves to the observation of certain processes which can be easily influenced through external means and which terminate in external acts. The experiments which serve this purpose are the so-called reaction-experiments. They may be described in their essentials as follows. A simple or complex volitional process is incited by an external sense-stimulus and then after the occurrence of certain psychical processes which serve in part as motives, the volition is brought to an end by a motor reaction.
Reaction-experiments have a second and more general significance besides that mentioned. They furnish means for the measurement of the rate of certain psychical and psycho-physical processes. In fact, such measurements are always made in these experiments. The primary significance of the experiments, however, consists in the fact that each one includes a volition and that it is therefore possible, in this way, by means of introspection to follow with exactness the succession of psychical processes in such a volition, and at the same time, by the deliberate variation of the conditions, to influence this succession in a systematic manner.
The simplest reaction-experiment that can be made is as follows. A short interval (2-3 see.) after a signal that serves to concentrate the attention, an external stimulus is allowed to act on some sense-organ. At the moment when the stimulus is perceived, a movement that has been determined upon and prepared before, as, for example, a movement of the hand, is executed. The psychological conditions in this experiment correspond essentially to those of a simple volition. The sensible impression serves as a [p. 198] simple motive, and this is to be followed invariably by a particular act. If now we measure objectively by means of either graphic or other chronometric apparatus, the interval that elapses between the action of the stimulus and the execution of the movement, it will be possible, by frequently repeated experiments of the same kind, to become thoroughly acquainted with the subjective processes that make up the whole reaction, while at the same time the results of the objective measurement will furnish a cheek for the constancy or possible variations in these subjective processes. This cheek is especially useful in those cases where some condition in the experiment and thereby the subjective course of the volition itself is intentionally modified.
Such a modification may, indeed, be introduced even in the simple form of the experiment just described, by varying the way in which the reactor prepares, before the appearance of the stimulus, for the execution of the act. When the expectation is directed toward the stimulus which is to serve as the motive,. the form of reaction known as sensorial results. When, on the other hand, the preparatory expectation is directed toward the act to be executed in response to the motive, we have the so-called muscular reaction. In the first case the ideational factor of the expectation is a pale memory-image of the familiar sense-impression. When the period of preparation is more extended, this image oscillates between alternating clearness and obscurity. The selective element is a feeling of expectation that oscillates in a similar manner and is connected with sensations of strain from the sense-organ to be affected, as, for example, with tension of the tympanum or of the ocular muscles of accommodation and movement. In the second case, on the other hand, where the reaction is muscular, we may observe during the period of preparatory expectation a pale, wavering memory-image of the motor [p. 199] organ that is to react (e. g., the hand) together with strong sensations of strain in the same, and a fairly continuous feeling of expectation connected with these sensations. Sensorial reaction-time is on the average 0.210-0.290 sec. (the shortest time is for sound, the longest for light), with a mean variation of 0.020 sec. for the single observations. Muscular reaction-time is 0.120-0.190 sec., with a mean variation of 0.010 see. The different values of the mean variation in the two cases are chiefly important as objective cheeks for the discrimination of these forms of reaction. 
12. By introducing special conditions we may make sensorial and muscular reactions the starting points for the study of the development of volitions in two different directions. Sensorial reactions furnish the means of passing from simple to complex volitions because we can in this case easily insert different psychical processes between the perception of the impression and the execution of the reaction. Thus we have a voluntary act of relatively simple character when we allow an act of cognition or discrimination to follow the perception of the impression and then let the movement depend on this second process. In this case not the immediate impression but the idea that results from the act of cognition or discrimination is the motive for the act to be performed. This motive is only one of a greater or smaller number of equally possible motives that could have come up in place of it; as a result the reaction-movement takes on the character of a voluntary act. In fact, we may [p. 200] observe clearly the feeling of resolution antecedent to the act and also the feelings preceding that and connected with the perception of the impression. This is still more emphatically the case, and the succession of ideational and affective processes is at the same time more complicated, when we bring in still another psychical process, as, for example, an association, to serve as the decisive motive for the execution of the movement. Finally, the voluntary process becomes one of choice when, in such experiments, the act is not merely influenced by a plurality of motives in such a way that several must follow one another before one determines the act, but when, in addition to that, one of a number of possible different acts is decided upon according to the motive presented. This takes place when preparations are made for different movements, for example, one with the right, another with the left hand, or one with each of the ten fingers, and the condition is prescribed for each movement that an impression of a particular quality shall serve as its motive, for example, the impression blue for the right hand, red for the left.
13. Muscular reactions, on the contrary, may be used follow out the retrogradation of volitional acts to reflex movement. In this form of reaction the preparatory expectation is directed entirely towards the external act, so that a voluntary inhibition or execution of the act in accordance with the special character of the impression, that is, a transition from simple to complex acts of will, is in this case impossible. On the other hand, it is easy by practice so to habituate one's self to the invariable connection of an impression and a particular movement, that the process perception fades out more and more or takes place the motor impulse, and finally the movement becomes like a reflex movement. This reduction of volition to [p. 201] mechanical process, which in the case of sensorial reactions is never possible from the very nature of their conditions, shows itself in the shortening of the objective time to that observed for pure reflexes, and in the subjective coincidence in point of time of impression and reaction, while the characteristic feeling of resolution gradually disappears entirely.
13a. The chronometric experiments familiar in experimental psychology under the name of "reaction-experiments", are important for two reasons: first, as aids in the analysis of volitional processes, and secondly, as means for the investigation of the temporal course of psychical processes in general. This twofold importance of reaction-experiments reflects the central importance of volitions. On the one hand, the simpler processes, feelings, emotions, and their related ideas, are components of a complete volition; on the other, all possible forms of the interconnection of psychical compounds may appear as components of a volition. Volitional processes are, consequently, an appropriate transition to the interconnection between psychical compounds to be discussed in the next chapter.
For a "reaction-experiment" which is to be the basis of an analysis
of a volitional process or any of its component psychical processes, we
must have first of all exact and sufficiently fine (reading with exactness
to 1/1000 sec.) chronometric apparatus (electric clock or graphic
register). The apparatus must be so arranged that we can determine exactly
the moment at which the stimulus acts and that at which the subject reacts.
This can be accomplished by allowing the stimulus itself (sound, light,
or tactual stimulus) to close an electric current that sets an electric
clock reading to 1/1000 sec., in motion, and then allowing the observer,
by means of a simple movement of the hand which raises a telegraph-key,
to break the current again at the moment in which he apprehends the stimulus.
In this way we may measure simple reactions varied in different ways (sensorial
and muscular reactions, reactions with or without preceding signals), or
we may bring into the process various other psychical acts (discriminations,
cognitions, associations, selective processes) which may be regarded either
as motives for the volition [p. 202] or as components of the general interconnection
of psychical compounds. A simple reaction always includes, along with the
volitional process, purely physiological factors (conduction of the sensory
excitation to the brain and of the motor excitation to the muscle). If,
now, we insert further psychical processes (discriminations, cognitions,
associations, acts of choice), a modification which can be made only when
sensorial reactions are employed, the duration of clearly definable psychical
processes may be gained by subtracting the interval found for simple reactions
from those found for the compound reactions. In this way it has been determined
that the time required for the cognition and for the discrimination of
relatively simple impressions (colors, letters, short words) is 0.03 -
0.05"; the time for choice between two movements (right and left hand)
is 0.06", between ten movements ,the ten fingers) 0.4", etc. As already
remarked, the value of these figures is not their absolute magnitude, but
rather their utility as cheeks for introspection, while at the same time
we may apply this introspective observation to processes subject to conditions
which are prescribed with exactness by means of experimental methods and
which may therefore be repeated at pleasure.
 The reaction-times for sensations of taste, smell, temperature, and pain are not reckoned in the figures given. They are all longer. The differences are, however, obviously to be attributed to pure physiological conditions (slow transmission of the stimulation to the nerve-endings, and in the case of pain slower central conduction), so that they are of no interest for psychology.