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The History of Industrial and Organizational Psychology

Updated on March 21, 2013

An Introduction

Industrial and organizational (I/O) psychology is defined as the application of psychological principles and theories to the workplace. However, there are two parts of I/O psychology. The industrial side is associated with job analysis, training, selection, and performance measurement or appraisal. Organizational psychology consists as motivation, work attitudes, leadership, organizational development, structure, and culture. The two sides are dependent upon each other to provide a successful and productive company.

Before World War 1

I/O, along with being one of the least known sections of psychology, has a young history. In1901, Walter Scott, a former student of Wilhelm Wundt, gave a speech about the psychological aspects of advertising. Two years later, he published the book The Theory of Advertising. About twelve years later, Hugo Munsterberg, another Wundt student, moved to the United States and published a textbook, Psychology and Industrial Efficiency, in 1913. While most of these men were trained as experimental psychologists, the few psychologists who took on early I/O had regular full-time jobs. Their I/O studies were hobbies that they did in their spare time.

World War 1 through the 1920s

The years for I/O psychology to begin puberty occurred during this time. Scott and Bingham established a psychological program under the Army's personnel officer. Their section were in charge of many projects. For example, the creation of performance rating forms. There were other groups of psychologists who studied for the government. One led by Robert Yerkes who used the Army Apha and Army Beta mental ability tests. These tests were used to select and classify army personnel. They were multiple choice-based and were administered in groups. One serous fact came to light during this time. I/O psychologists had a lot to offer the military and government for the screening and classification of employees.

While some were researching for the government, other psychologists were expanding to the private industry. Consulting firms which worked in mental ability testing, personnel planning, training, and personnel administration began. Two of these consulting firms consisted as The Psychological Corporation and The Scott Company.

The first Ph.D. in industrial psychology was given to Bruce V. Moore from Carnegie Tech during this time. He was the first president of Division 14 of the APA, the I/O division. A company came to him with a problem. They could not tell the difference between new employees who should be directed toward a career in sales engineering and those who should go into design engineering. Moore and others worked on the problem to discover that these different employees were best recognized by the items that reflected their interests. Edward Strong studied Bruce Moore's works and wrote the Strong Vocational Interest Blank for Men. This test could be more easily recognized as the Strong Interest Inventory which is often given to high school and college students by guidance departments to help find what careers would be stimulating for them.

1930's to Pre-World War 2

During this time, there were a series of experiments known as the Hawthorne Studies. The Great Depression was in effect, where unemployment went to all-time highs and growth in the economy was a memory. The American culture became focused on the human condition. Some of the Hawthorne Studies researched the impact of illumination on productivity. These experiments importantly highlighted the social relations and employee attitudes in the work place. At this point, it literally came to light that the social and psychological conditions of work were often more important than the physical conditions. Before this time, team development, supervision, group process, worker morale, and other organizational methods were not often used in I/O psychology. The way I/O psychology was viewed entirely changed. Now motivation, leadership, and human resources were considered valuable assets.

World War 2 through the Mid-1960s

World War 2 saw a refinement in terms of selection, placement, evaluation, and appraisal. Even though they were born in World War 1, here is where they were better defined, detailed, and applied best. Organizational dynamics, work groups, and employee morale was also emphasized. Much of the military work during World War 1 was shut down yet World War 2 continued research and still continue studies to this day. Kurt Lewin, a social psychologist, was interested in the theory and methodology in the area of work groups and leadership. Lewin's early work still influences I/O psychology though his research is now mostly used in goal setting and expectancy theory. Personnel counseling developed as an outgrowth of the Hawthorne Studies as well. Psychologists focused on employees dealing with personal problems that could affect work performance.

Mid-1960's to Mid-1980's

In 1970, Division 14 of the APA changed it's name to the "division of Industrial and Organizational Psychology". This was the moment I/O psychology became accepted. This time phrame experienced research on selection and performance appraisal. These two are the most studied and largest areas in I/O psychology. During this period, organizational topics of interested included work motivation, job attitudes, and job characteristics. Goal setting and expectancy theory arrived at this time. Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham worked on motivating potential of jobs as a result of characteristics. This is a major study point for I/O students. Also, much of the work on job attitudes, including job satisfaction and organizational commitment, was done at this time.

Doctorial training programs arrived at Bowling Green State University, North Carloina State University, and the University of Akron. By 1980 there were 2,005 members of Division 14.

Mid-1980's to Present

During the last 20 years, Industrial and Organizational psychology had drastically grown. More work in traditional areas has gone on along with new domains. For example, selection, performance appraisal, motivation, and leadership, the fiarness of employment tests, legal climate with personnel or labor law. One of the most current focuses of research consists of cognitive processes, understanding the working mind. The most recent SIOP data claims there are about 3,500 professional members and 2,500 student members. There are over 65 doctoral programs and many other master degree programs.


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