History of Industrial and Organizational Psychology

Updated on February 9, 2017
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Industrial and Organizational Psychology

Industrial and Organizational PSychology focuses on improving productivity in the workplace and creating the best possible working environment for employees.
Industrial and Organizational PSychology focuses on improving productivity in the workplace and creating the best possible working environment for employees. | Source

The World of Psychology

The world of psychology is divided into many disciplines. Each discipline shares commonalities in that they each seek an improve understanding of human nature, behavior, and mental functions. Within some fields, it is enough to gain insight into these subjects through study and research. In other fields, it is desired to use the knowledge that has been gained for the purpose of creating change. When most people think of psychology, they think of the fields of clinical and abnormal psychology where the practitioners within the field seek to assist individuals who may have mental disorders and to create change by helping those individuals to improve their own lives. While this is what most people think of concerning psychology, it is not the only discipline of the field. The field of industrial and organizational psychology seeks to apply the principles of psychology to create change within the business world and in doing so improve the way organizations function as well as improving the quality of the working experience of individuals.

How Do We Define Industrial and Organizational Psychology?

Industrial and organizational psychology is defined as the study of people working and the application of the principles of psychology to the organizational and work environment (Spector, 2008; Jex, 2002). Industrial and organizational psychology is a field of psychology which is concerned with both the study of psychological principles as a science and the application of those principles (Spector, 2008; Jex, 2002).

The Industrial Side

Industrial and organizational psychology is like a coin with two sides. Industrial psychology is the first side of that coin. The main focus of the industrial side of the coin is understanding human behavior in order to improve organizational efficiency, employee selection, employee training and to more efficiently design jobs (Spector, 2008; Jex, 2002).The industrial side of industrial and organizational psychology is a top down perspective which views human behavior to assess ways in which the organization can benefit from the application of psychological principles (Spector, 2008; Jex, 2002).

The Organizational Side

The organizational side of the coin is the inverse of this. The organizational side focuses on understanding behavior in order to enhance employee satisfaction and well-being within the work place (Spector, 2008; Jex, 2002). Spector (2008) explains that “organizational topics include employee attitudes, employee behavior, job stress, and supervisory practices” (p. 5). Judging by the focus of organizational topics it can be stated that the organizational side of the field is a bottom up perspective which focuses on behavior in order to improve the quality and satisfaction of the individuals within an organization rather than the organization as a whole.

The Two Sides Together

Though each of these two sides is focused from a different perspective they are not mutually exclusive in their goals, their applications or their topics of interest. Spector (2008) uses the example of motivation to explain the dual nature of subjects studied by industrial and organizational psychologists, stating that motivation “is relevant to the [industrial] concerns of employee efficiency and performance, but it is also relevant to the [organizational] concern with the happiness and well-being of employees” (p. 5).

The Early Years Of I/O Psychology

The field of industrial and organizational psychology was spawned in the 1800s out of experimental psychology (Spector, 2008; Koppes, 2007). Hugo Münsterberg, Walter Dill Scott and James Mckeen Cattel were early pioneers of the field of industrial and organizational psychology (Spector, 2008; Koppes, 2007). Münsterberg and Cattel both trained under Wilhelm Wundt graduating from his doctoral program in Germany before relocating to the United States (Koppes, 2007). These pioneers brought the study and application of psychological principles into the world of business and industry (Spector, 2008; Koppes, 2007). According to Koppes (2007) “In the beginning the objective of an industrial psychology was to improve organizational goals (productivity and efficiency) primarily by applying psychology with an emphasis on individual differences, through selection and training” (p. 314). The early years of this branch of psychology focused on the industrial side of the field (Spector, 2008; Koppes, 2007). During this time there was a marriage within the field of industrial psychology between the principles of psychology and the field of engineering (Spector, 2008; Koppes, 2007). Many of the individuals who helped to influence the field of industrial psychology had backgrounds in engineering, some had backgrounds in history and law (Spector, 2008; Koppes, 2007; Jex, 2002).

Industrial Psychology and the First World War

Industrial psychology prospered due to World War I (Spector, 2008; Koppes, 2007). When the United States entered the first World War psychologist were called upon to develop a program for psychological evaluation or recruits as well as a means for selecting personnel for specific jobs within the military (Spector, 2008; Koppes, 2007). The group of psychologist working with the military were led by Robert Yerkes (Spector, 2008; Koppes, 2007). According to Spector (2008) “the best-known accomplishment of the group was the development of the Army Alpha and Army Beta group tests for mental ability” (p. 12). Koppes (2007) explains that these mental ability test “paved the way for large-scale intelligence testing and for later expansion of psychological testing into government, industry, and education” (p. 315). Between the first and second World War the field of industrial and organizational psychology expanded rapidly (Spector, 2008; Koppes, 2007; Jex, 2002).

The Hawthorne Studies

According to Spector (2008) “One of the most important events of this period was the Hawthorne studies, which continued for more than 10 years at the Western Electric Company” (p. 12). The Hawthorne studies became a pivotal point in the evolution of industrial and organizational psychology because it was primarily responsible for the development of the organizational side of the field (Spector, 2008; Koppes, 2007; Jex, 2002). The Hawthorne studies inadvertently revealed the human side of organizations. In another attempt to study methods of increasing efficiency and productivity it was learned that social aspects of an organization, such as work groups and the worker's knowledge that they are being watched, affected the workers behavior and performance (Spector, 2008; Koppes, 2007; Jex, 2002). The understanding that social aspects of the work environment had an effect on behavior led to psychologists examining the work environment from the perspective of the individual employees (Spector, 2008; Koppes, 2007; Jex, 2002).

World War II and Division 14 of the APA

The emergence of World War II again allowed the field of industrial and organizational psychology to expand due to the growing demands of the military (Spector, 2008; Koppes, 2007; Jex, 2002). World War II not only widened the scope of the field of industrial and organizational psychology, it also opened doors professionally for industrial and organizational psychologists. Before the second World War the American Psychological Association was not concerned with experimental or applied fields within psychology (Spector, 2008; Koppes, 2007). In response to the changes occurring in psychology at the time the APA created Division 14, Industrial and Business Psychology (Spector, 2008; Koppes, 2007; Jex, 2002). This arm of the APA went through a couple of changes and eventually evolved into the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (Spector, 2008; Koppes, 2007; Jex, 2002).

References

  • Koppes, L (2007). "History of Industrial/Organizational Psychology in North America." Encyclopedia of Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Ed. Steven G. Rogelberg. Vol. 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Reference, 2007. 312-317. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 5 Mar. 2011.
  • Jex, S (2002). Organizational Psychology: A Scientist-Practitioner Approach. Retrieved from the University of Phoenix eBook Collection database.
  • Spector, P (2008). Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Research and Practice (5th ed). Retrieved from the University of Phoenix eBook Collection database.

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    © 2012 Wesley Meacham

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