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Industrial Organizational Psychology

Updated on March 10, 2020

Industrial/Organizational Psychology Defined

The human side of organizations and application of research conducted defines industrial/organizational psychology. The industrial side involves operations and effectiveness of companies. Industrial psychology uses appraisals, to design positions within the company, personnel training and the hiring process. The organizational aspect focuses on individuals within the company. Additional focuses include behavior and making the workplace enjoyable for employment. The industrial/organizational psychologist settings include research and practice. The area of practice psychology solves problems occurring within the work environment. The research aids in determination of methods and placing findings into practice (Spector, 2006). Industrial/organizational psychology’s work concentrates on motivating workers, selection of workers and satisfaction of the workers once employed. Additional focus concentrates on causes of absenteeism, communication between workers and management, training, performance evaluations and education of employees in areas of social and human relations skills to name a few. The major branches of industrial/organizational psychology are ergonomics, personnel psychology and organizational psychology. The field is referred to in Europe as work psychology (Colman, 2009).

Evolution of Industrial/Organizational Psychology

Industrial/Organizational psychology evolved over time through trial and error. Although the field has existed since the 20th century, the foundations evolved from as early as the late 1800s, among the first were experimental psychologists. The field was co founded by Hugo Munsterberg and Walter Dill Scott. Munsterberg’s concern was with how employee selection processes. He began the use of psychological testing for employees. Scott echoed the interests of Munsterberg adding psychology of advertising. Following close behind was Frederick Winslow Taylor’s development of scientific management as a method to deal with factory workers’ production. As time went by other psychologists entered the field leaving their marks. During World War I the military made use of the methods, led by Robert Yerkes. The army began to use testing for mental aptitude to determine placement of new soldiers. The Hawthorne Studies determined that physical factors bear less impact on job performance than knowing they were being observed (Spector, 2006). In 2009, researchers reanalyzed the original data used in the Hawthorne studies. The results determined factors other than observations “played a role in productivity and that the effect originally described was weak at best” (VanWagner, 2009, ¶ 3).

During the 1960s, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed and treatment of employees to include hiring practices changed. No longer could females and minorities be discriminated against. In 1990 with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, discrimination against disabled individuals ceased (Spector, 2006). With the passage of both acts America’s workforce became diversified. The workforce included individuals beyond the once traditional white males.

Role of Research and Statistics

Research and statistics play a large part in the job of an industrial/organizational psychologist. In order to determine the effectiveness of the training a scientific research study is conducted. The research is important in deciding how to hire people and develop new procedures of operation (Spector, 2006). Originally the field of industrial/organizational psychology used research differently, “meta-analysis was used mostly to rule out context effects, demonstrating validity generalization for mental tests across work settings” (Johns, 1998, ¶ 18). There was a lack of ability to determine context effects. Although the context in meta-analyses has the ability to test as well as create theory. Meta-analysis has been used to determine why employment opportunities and employee turnover do not interact with affective variables. The study was accomplished by discussing the situation with the authors “of a large number of studies of the connection between job satisfaction and turnover and asking them where and when their data were collected” (Johns, ¶ 18). At which point the unemployment rate during the time period was measured.


Industrial/organizational psychology originated in the 1800s and quickly became an asset to the workforce and military. Without the field employers difficult task of hiring and maintaining quality workers increases in difficulty. Employers’ ability to hire, fire, and retain quality employee’s decreases. With industrial/organizational psychologists, the procedure became easier. Through research psychologists determine reasons for turnover rates and how to maintain a productive staff. The industrial/organizational psychologist is a valuable player in the business, industry and overall labor force.


Colman, A. M. (2009). Industrial/organizational psychology. In Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.

Johns, G. (1998). The nature of work, the context of organizational behaviour, and the application of industrial-organizational psychology. PsycARTICLES, 39(1). Retrieved from

Spector, P. (2006). Industrial and organizational psychology (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

VanWagner, K. (2009). Hawthorne effect. Retrieved November 16, 2009, from


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