Definition and History of Industrial Psychology
GENERAL HISTORY OF INDUSTRAL PSYCHOLOGY Industrial psychology is a relatively recent subfield of psychology. In fact it did not become fully productive until about the late 1920’s. The industrial side of industrial psychology has its historical origins in research on individual differences, assessment, and the prediction of performance. This branch of the field crystallized during World War I, in response to the need to rapidly assign new troops to duty stations. After the War the growing industrial base in the U.
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S. added impetus to industrial psychology. Walter Dill Scott, who was elected President of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1919, was arguably the most prominent I-O psychologist of his time, although James McKeen Cattell (elected APA President in 1895) and Hugo Munsterberg (1898) were influential in the early development of the field. Organizational psychology gained prominence after World War II, influenced by the Hawthorne studies and the work of researchers such as Kurt Lewin and Muzafer Sherif.
Before the late 1920’s many people had started to improve the workplace. Differential psychology, which became popular during World War I, was the start of improving the workplace. It focused in on how people are different but was not very successful in helping with ones job. The second idea was experimental psychology. This branch attempted to treat everyone as the same and tried to define laws in how people are similar. It too failed. The third idea was scientific management. This was the idea that there is only “one best way” to perform a job.
It was based on the fact that money is a motivator and left out the idea of job satisfaction. The last factor that helped industrial psychology become prominent was the human relations movement. This particular movement wanted to keep people happy through motivation along with job satisfaction. It also led to the Hawthorne Studies, which was the true start of industrial psychology. The Hawthorne Studies were conducted from about 1927-1932 by Elton Mayo at the Western Electric Company.
Some results that came out of this study were that a workplace must be seen as a social system not just a productive system, that including workers in decision making process can reduce resistance to change, and that individual work behaviour is determined by a complex set of factors. In the USA, initial activity in industry by psychologists was in advertising; however, employee selection then became the major focus. As a result of the training in experimental psychology, early industrial psychologists used a quantitative, scientific approach for selection that emphasized empirical verification of the effectiveness of their interventions.
In January 2010, the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) announced that, as a result of membership vote, it would retain its name and not change it to the Society for Organizational Psychology (TSOP) to eliminate the word “Industrial” THE IMPORTANT PEOPLE IN THE HISTORY OF INDUSTRIAL PSYCHOLOGY Hugo Munsterberg – Hugo Munsterberg (June 1, 1863 – December 19, 1916) was a German-American psychologist. He was a pioneer of applied psychology, extending his research and theories to legal, medical, clinical, educational, and business settings.
He is considered by many “the father of industrial psychology,” whose work in this area paved the way for the modern industrial-organizational psychology. His research on eyewitness testimony set up some fundamental insights in forensic psychology. There, he brought attention to the role of experience and memory on the perception and recall of events, showing that different people will describe the same event quite differently. Munsterberg created a series of mental tests and job questionnaires to test the applicants’ knowledge, skills, and abilities.
He also conducted research on several different occupations, seeking evidence for a correlation between mental tests and job performance. One of the results of his research was that there was a negative correlation between job efficiency and worker’s talking on a job. Munsterberg suggested a re-arrangement of the workplace to increase difficulty for workers to talk to each other, which in turn increased job productivity Munsterberg called for the creation of an independent science—industrial psychology—which would use insights from psychology to create a better atmosphere in the workplace, higher job efficiency, and greater job satisfaction.
Frederick Winslow Taylor: (March 20, 1856 – March 21, 1915), widely known as F. W. Taylor, was an American mechanical engineer who sought to improve industrial efficiency. A management consultant in his later years, he is sometimes called “the father of scientific management. Robert Yerkes – (May 26, 1876 – February 3, 1956) was a psychologist, ethnologist, and primatologist, best known for his work in intelligence testing and in the field of comparative psychology. Yerkes was a pioneer in the study of both human and primate intelligence, and of the social behaviour of gorillas and chimpanzees.
Yerkes worked with John D. Dodson to develop the Yerkes-Dodson Law relating arousal to task performance. The Yerkes National Primate Research Centre, which he established, is named in his honour James McKean Catelli: (May 25, 1860 – January 20, 1944), was an American psychologist, the first professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. His work on mental testing helped establish psychology as a legitimate scientific discipline. Catelli not only developed the experimental aspects, through establishing a laboratory, he also began several scholarly journals for the publication of quality research.
After being dismissed from his academic position at Columbia University due to his opposition to American involvement in World War I, Catelli pursued his writing and development of applied psychology. Catelli’s work is significant in that he helped lay the foundation for the development of advances in understanding human nature. George Elton Mayo (December 26, 1880 – September 7, 1949) was an Australian-born American psychologist and sociologist. He is famous for the Hawthorne studies, which examined the effects of social relations, motivation, and employee satisfaction on factory productivity.
This work was a landmark in industrial psychology. Despite later criticisms of the validity of his results, Mayo’s work introduced the idea that the external factors (lighting, temperature, and so forth) were of lesser significance in determining productivity levels of workers than the social factors (such as work group relationships and feelings of belonging). Mayo and others extended this idea into larger social organizations, greatly enriching theories of management. Kurt Zadek Lewin (September 9, 1890 – February 12, 1947), was a German-born psychologist, one of the pioneers of contemporary social psychology.
He advocated Gestalt psychology and is well known for his development of the concept of the psychological “field,” or “life space,” within which each person lives and acts. Lewin believed that in order to understand or predict human behaviour, it was necessary to consider the totality of their life space. In this way, Lewin proposed that people develop understanding of their world, physical, mental, and social, through continuous interaction between their existing memories, desires, and goals and their environment.
Lewis also initiated the notion of “action research,” which involves a cycle of reflection on the results of planned action leading to improved planning and more effective behaviour. His work on group dynamics led to greater understanding of the relationship between attitudes (and prejudice) and behaviour, bringing hope that through a dynamic process of modifying the environment and the behaviour of individuals, that humanity can break down the barriers that divide different groups of people and learn to live in harmony.
HISTORY OF INDUSTRIAL PSYCHOLOGY IN AMERICA A significant era in what we might call personnel or industrial psychology started with major research efforts funded by the Army in World War I. Then-APA president Robert Yerkes, working with an Army grant, developed the Army Alpha test for screening and assigning literate army recruits, then later the Army Beta test to serve the same need for illiterate candidates. During the same period, Walter Scott focused on methods for classifying and assigning recruits into job categories.
He conducted performance ratings of officers and developed job qualifications standards for more than 500 jobs. These efforts gave credibility to industrial psychology that not only captured the attention of the military but also the business community. During World War II, many psychologists were brought into the Army to help with the war effort. The results of their research were eventually published in a series of 19 Army Air Force Aviation Psychology Program Research Reports.
Most of these were published from 1946 to 1948 and dealt with the core issues of industrial psychology, including classification tests, pilot, navigator, and bombardier selection and training, and equipment design. Many of these psychologists were already, or later became, leaders in the field, such as John C. Flanagan, Robert L. Thorndike, Paul M. Fitts, Arthur W. Melton, and Edwin E. Ghiselli. These volumes are an exciting contribution to the fields of industrial and human factors psychology.
In particular, report number three, Research Problems and Techniques by Robert Thorndike (1947), has served as a reference for much of the research in job analysis and test construction, because it explores problems associated with reliability, validity, and criteria. The US Air Force became a separate service in 1947 and has since been actively involved in all areas of psychological research. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Air Force had an active partnership with Purdue University, where I received my PhD.
This relationship involved sending Air Force officers for master’s and doctoral education in human factors engineering and industrial psychology. Graduates of the human factors engineering program have assisted the Air Force in design of aircraft, missile, and electronic systems, and have served as USAF Academy instructors. A large percentage of those receiving degrees in industrial psychology ended up at the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory. AFHRL was headquartered at Brooks Air Force Base and consisted of six research divisions.
The computational sciences division provided computer support for all of the other divisions. The personnel research division was involved in attitudinal, selection and classification, and development and evaluation research. The third division focused on occupational and manpower research. The remaining three divisions were the flying training division, the technical training division, and the advanced systems division, which researched personnel requirements and simulation techniques. Unfortunately, AFHRL was abolished as a laboratory during the 1990s.
Some of its functions were transferred to other bases. One of its major functions was job analysis research. Today that capability is very active at the Air Force Occupational Measurement Squadron, which employs the majority of individuals considered industrial psychologists in the Air Force. The remaining behavioural scientists – industrial psychologists included – are employed by either the USAF Academy or the Air Force Research Laboratory. These impressive organizations have made significant contributions, not only to industrial psychology but to behavioural and social science in general.
HISTORY OF INDUSTRIAL PSYCHOLOGY IN EUROPE It is a little known fact that industrial psychology was well established in the early years of the Soviet Union and that by the late 1930s, as a result of a political campaign, it was almost completely destroyed. This article outlines the development and the decline of Soviet industrial psychology and attempts to put these events in their political, economic, and cultural context. The Russian Civil War that followed the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 lasted until 1921.
During this period, an economic policy of War Communism was implemented, heavy industry was nationalized, and all private enterprise abolished. After the war was over, Soviet Russia struggled to rebuild its ruined economy. Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and other Bolshevik leaders believed that rapid industrialization and modernization was a matter of life and death for the vulnerable new regime. As the New Economic Policy was implemented in 1921, ideological restrictions were relaxed and many Western ideas were adopted to facilitate economic development.
Inspired by Ford and Taylor’s ideas of efficiency and scientific management, Russian workers were encouraged to develop better work habits. Western ideas of “scientific organization of labour” or NOT, according to its Russian acronym, were widely popularized among the new members of the proletariat, many of whom until recently were semi-literate peasants. In 1921, with support of Lenin and Trotsky, Aleksei Gastev (1882–1938), an enthusiastic devotee of “Taylorization,” established the Central Institute of Labour or CIT.
One of the utopian goals of Gastev’s institute was the creation of the new “Mechanized Man”—the perfect industrial worker. This was to be accomplished through increasing labour efficiency, developing new training methods, and improving industrial design. Several scientific laboratories were established to investigate psychophysical process involved in industrial production jobs. Among the scientists conducting experimental research at CIT was Isaac Shpilrein (1891–1937). Shpilrein was a Russian-born, German-educated psychologist, who studied with both Wilhelm Wundt and William Stern.
Shpilrein was well familiar with Stern’s concept of psycho technique, which, similarly to Munsterberg, he defined as application of psychological methods to solving real-life problems. Shpilrein believed that work practices grounded in psychological research (rather than Taylorism) were the way to achieving Russia’s economic objectives. Following Stern, Shpilrein was an advocate of individual difference assessment as a selection and placement method. After leaving the Central Institute of Labour in 1922, Shpilrein became the undisputed leader of Soviet industrial psychologists.
He conducted original research, kept in contact with American and European colleagues, and mentored the new generation of industrial psychologists. By late 1920s, hundreds of specialists-psychotechnics employed in a variety of laboratory and industrial settings were conducting field and lab research in selection, placement, training, accident prevention, industrial design, and fatigue reduction. In 1927, the All-Russian Society of Psychotechnics and Applied Psychophysiology was formed. By 1931, the society had 1,020 active members.
Morris Viteles, the noted American psychologist, visited Russia in 1934 and observed the striking resemblance between the scope and methods of Soviet industrial psychologists and their Western colleagues. He also felt that “this progress was a tribute to the sincerity and integrity of Russian scientists who must struggle…against the intolerance of a political creed and system which denies to them the freedom of thought and opinion that is basic to real accomplishment in every field of science” (Viteles, 1935, p. 103).
This statement proves that Viteles was an astute observer. As Soviet industrial psychology was gathering momentum, the country was undergoing a political sea change. Soon after it began, however, the period of relative intellectual and scientific freedom was coming to an end. From 1928 on, following the defeat of Trotsky’s opposition, Stalin began seizing absolute power and building an isolated totalitarian society that had no more patience for dissent. The implementation of Five-Year Plans called for centralized command and control economic methods.
This trend was also manifested in the increasingly vigilant ideological oversight of science and education. In the early 1930s, Soviet industrial psychologists began to feel a growing pressure to distinguish themselves from the “bourgeois” psychologists in the West. This led to some awkward moments during the 7th International Psychotechnic conference in September of 1931 in Moscow as Shpilrein criticized William Stern, who was in the audience. Industrial psychologists’ attempts to adapt to the Marxist model of science did not save them from being repeatedly criticized in the Soviet press.
Their many accomplishments forgotten, psychologists were being accused of conducting counterrevolutionary research, especially where individual differences were concerned. In 1935 Shpilrein was arrested as a “Trotskist,” sent to GULAG, and later executed. Alexi Gastev shared his fate. The final blow was delivered in the fall of 1936 in the form of the decree of the Central Committee of the Communist party that accused psychotechnics of such “perversions” as misusing psychological testing in industry and education and reliance on non-Marxist research methods.
Virtually any kind of psychological assessment and individual differences research became taboo. Soon after, the Psychotechnic Society was dissolved, most research laboratories closed, and educational efforts seized. Many industrial psychologists lost their jobs in education and industry and had to find employment in other areas. Industrial psychology was not completely cleared of its counterrevolutionary label until the 1960s. HISTORY OF INDUSTRAIL PSYCHOLOGY IN AFRICA Industrial psychology has a long and dynamic history in South Africa. The contribution of South African psychologists to the world of work can be traced back to World War II.
During this time, R. W. Wilcock’s development of intelligence and special aptitude tests, P. R. Shawran’s early work on the selection of pilots for the armed forces, and I. D. MacCrone’s study of racial attitudes in South Africa were significant contributions (Raubenheimer, as cited in Muchinsky et al. , 1998). Subsequent work conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in the late 1940s further advanced I-O psychology in South Africa. This work focused primarily on the development of psychometric instruments used in many different fields.
Additional contributions were made in J. G. Taylor’s work on the behavioural basis of perception; H. F. E. Renning’s studies of the abilities, temperament, interests, and creativity of the Kalahari Bushmen; W. Hudson’s studies of the perceptual abilities of Blacks; J. Wolpe’s and A. Lazarus’s work in the field of behaviour therapy; F. W. Blignaut’s study of alcohol addiction in white mice; and S. Biesheuvel’s research on the intelligence and abilities of different population groups in South Africa (Raubenheimer, as cited in Muchinsky et al. , 1998).
Over the last 3 decades, industrial psychology in South Africa has grown at a remarkable rate. Almost all universities have industrial psychology departments in addition to their psychology departments. These departments were established in the 1960s and 1970s. The popularity of industrial psychology as a field of study has increased enormously over time. In 1972, only 3,147 students studied industrial psychology at South African universities, but by 1997 about 12,000 undergraduate students in I-O psychology were enrolled at the University of South Africa (Unisa) alone.