Difference Between Introspection and Retrospection

Introspection vs Retrospection

Introspection and retrospection are two different processes in which analysis plays a significant role and the difference between them is in the focus of the analysis. Introspection and retrospection have to be viewed as two conscious processes made by an individual although the results of these two processes are different from one another. In introspection, the individual looks at his emotions, feelings and thoughts. He explores these aspects deeply and engages in an analysis. However, retrospection is different. In this case, the individual looks back at his past events. It can be a painful or a happy memory. This is the main difference between these two processes. Through this article, let us examine the difference between introspection and retrospection in depth.

What is Introspection?

Simply, introspection can be defined as the examination of one’s thoughts. Within this context, the individual examine his feelings, emotions, thoughts and analyses the meanings behind these thoughts. For example, a person who might feel jealousy of another would examine this emotion that he feels, by exploring it deeper. He will try to figure out why he feels that way and what causes it.

However, in the field of psychology, introspection has been used as a particular technique in order to examine human thoughts. This technique was also known as experimental self-observation. This was used mostly by Wilhelm Wundt in his laboratory experimental contexts.

In a more general sense, introspection can be summarized as the examination of human emotions, and thoughts where the individual would make an attempt to analyze them. Even in our day to day lives we engage in introspection in order to comprehend our emotions and thoughts.

Difference Between Introspection and Retrospection

What is Retrospection?

Unlike in introspection where the individual analyses or examines his emotions and thoughts, in retrospection, the focus is not on the present condition but the past. Hence, retrospection can be defined as the act of looking back at past events. For example, an individual who recalls the first day of school, the day he got married, the day he graduated is engaging in a process of retrospection. This is not necessarily limited to blissful events in a person’s life. It can even be painful memories such as the death of a close relative or a breakup, etc.

In retrospection, the person looks back at the event and recalls it in the manner it unfolded. Here he does not make an attempt to analyze the feelings or thoughts, but simply recalls. However, it is possible that the individual can become overwhelmed with emotion as a result of recollection. Retrospection is vital not only in the day to day life, but also in certain disciplines such as history or archaeology. This is because in these disciplines, the subject matter lies in the past. Nevertheless, retrospection in this context is very much different to individual retrospection. This highlights that introspection and retrospection refer to two different processes.

 Introspection vs Retrospection

What is the difference between Introspection and Retrospection?

Definitions of Introspection and Retrospection:

Introspection: Introspection can be defined as the examination of one’s thoughts. In psychology, it is a technique known as experimental self-observation that is used to examine human thoughts.

Retrospection: Retrospection can be defined as the act of looking back at the past events and recalling the manner they unfolded.

Characteristics of Introspection and Retrospection:

Conscious Process:

Introspection and retrospection refer to two different processes that take place consciously.


Introspection: In introspection, the person looks at his feelings, thoughts, and emotions.

Retrospection: In retrospection, the person looks at past events.

Examination and Analysis:

Introspection: In introspection, examination and analysis are important.

Retrospection: This may not be so for retrospection. It can be limited to a mere recollection.


Introspection: In introspection, the focus is in the present.

Retrospection: In retrospection, the focus is in the past.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Introspection by Nicholas A. Tonelli (CC BY 2.0)
  2. Retrospection, by Thomas Eakins via Wikicommons (Public Domain)