Industrial and Organizational Psychology

Topic: Professional Psychology
Words: 2756 Pages: 10


The study of human behavior in the setting of a workplace and an organization is what industrial and organizational psychology, also known as I-O psychology, is concentrated on. The industrial and organizational specialty is concerned with deriving the behavioral principles of an individual worker, a group of them, or an organization as a whole while applying this knowledge to workplace difficulties (Grossnickle, 1998). This branch of psychology is concerned with several aspects, among which are personnel recruitment, its selection, placement tests, staff training, and development (Riggio, 2017). Moreover, the discipline focused on issues of the workers’ performance and the overall quality of working conditions and structure (Zickar, 2004). Human behavior under working situations receives special emphasis in industrial psychology. It aims to organize it in the most possible effective way to benefit both staff and organization. Individuals and applications in business, industry, labor, public (including non-profit), academic, community, and medical institutions are all touched by this branch of psychology studies.

The field of psychology is split into several subfields. Each field has one thing in common: they all want to learn more about human nature, behavior, and mental functioning. The findings of industrial and organizational psychology are beneficial and applicable to someone who intends to interact with any organization. It is one of psychology’s most prominent subdivisions. Industrial and organizational psychologists provide scientific information and play a critical role in talent recruitment, selection, assessment, and development, as well as workplace design and improvement. Using evidence-based methods to help employers understand and effectively manage their staff is crucial regardless of the state of the economy, and psychology as science remains an attractive career for many professionals. Because of its linkages to other subjects like management and business studies, the history, progress, and shortcomings of this field are vital to comprehend. This paper aims to depict the history of this particular field, its evolution, and its effect on psychology in general, as well as its significance within contemporary psychology.

Industrial and Organizational Psychology: History of the Field

Before diving into the history of the field, it is important to consider its essential components and how do they interconnect, essentially producing industrial and organizational psychology. This discipline is structured by combining two components of psychology: industrial and organizational psychology, as the name indicates. The first crucial aspect of the field is industrial psychology. The industrial field is concerned with gaining a better knowledge of human behavior in order to enhance organizational performance, recruiting, employee training, and workplace design (Grossnickle, 1998). The industrial aspect of the discipline is essentially a top-down approach that examines human behavior to see how psychological principles might help a company. The organizational side of this psychological tendency is the polar opposite of the aforementioned. This area’s organizational focus is on understanding behavior in the workplace in order to increase employee happiness and well-being. Employee attitudes, behaviors, stressful events, and control procedures are examples of organizational subsectors and topics of interest (Grossnickle, 1998). The organizational side of this topic is essentially a bottom-up approach that focuses on behavior rather than the organization as a whole, with the objective of enhancing the quality and satisfaction of individual employees inside the business.

Although each of these two sides appears to focus on separate perspectives, their goals and applications are not mutually incompatible. Interests collide in a variety of ways. Motivation, for example, is a significant topic researched by industrial and organizational psychologists that is important to workplace difficulties such as employee efficiency and productivity, as well as organizational characteristics such as staff happiness and well-being. Overall, the area of industrial and organizational psychology aims to use psychological concepts to enhance the organizational processes through stabilizing the industrial capacities.

The field of industrial and organizational psychology dates back to the early twentieth century. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact “birth” of industrial and organizational psychology, although most experts believe that it occurred between 1900 and 1905 (Riggio, 2017). It is widely recognised that no single person can be credited as the founder of this branch of psychology. Several scientists, such as Hugo Munsterberg, Walter Dill Scott, Frederick Taylor, and James Cattell are among pioneers. Another scientist, Morris Witeles, is occasionally referenced in relation to this field, as he was the first to publish a book named “Industrial Psychology” (Spector, 2021). Industrial psychologists built a reputation for themselves in business in the early days of industrial psychology through marketing and advertising, as well as efforts to enhance productivity and efficiency (Huang et al., 2013). However, it was advertising and marketing psychologists who were the first to infiltrate the corporate sector.

One of the first psychologists to use psychology in advertising, management, and recruitment was Walter Dill Scott. W. D. Scott, who is regarded as one of the original Founding Fathers, spoke to a gathering of advertising experts at North-Western University in 1901 about how psychology may be used in advertising (Grossnickle, 1998). Scott has written various books, journals, and articles on the use of psychology throughout the years, including “Advertising Theory” and “Advertising Psychology.”They are widely regarded as the first works to discuss the application of psychology in business. Scott was a driving force behind the use of psychology in the commercial sector, particularly in advertising. Scott is recognized for bringing industrial psychology to the forefront of personnel assessment during World War I. This military affair aided in the development of Industrial Psychology as a distinct subject. At the Adjutant General’s Office (AGO), Scott and Bingham formed a committee to study techniques for selecting officers (Riggio, 2017). They developed job needs prerequisites for the army, which included a job description system as well as a system of officer performance evaluations and competence assessments (Riggio, 2017). W. D. Scott left an indelible mark on the field of industrial psychology. His pioneering work in advertising, his prolific career at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and especially his work during World War I all made significant contributions to industrial psychology as a science and practice (McMillan et al., 2009). Scott was a pioneer in the discipline, whether or not he was the “first” industrial psychologist.

Hugo Münsterberg was another industrial psychology pioneer. He published “Psychology and Industrial Efficiency,” a book that addressed issues such as repetition, attention, and exhaustion, as well as the physical and social effects on workers, the impact of advertising, and the future of economic psychology (Martin, 2019). He is most recognized for this book, which provided the groundwork for future study in this field. Münsterberg referred to his discipline as “economic psychology” and contended that it was a unique and autonomous discipline (Martin, 2019). Hugo Münsterberg argued that aligning employment to people’s emotional and mental capacities was the key to workplace performance (Zickar, 2004). That good matches resulted in employee happiness, high-quality work, and enhanced efficiency. He achieved this by developing a set of psychological tests and questionnaires to assess candidates’ knowledge, skills, and capacities. He conducted a study in a variety of vocations, seeking evidence of a link between IQ testing and work success (Martin, 2019). Münsterberg proposed reorganizing the workplace to make it more difficult for employees to communicate with one another, resulting in enhanced efficiency. He argued for the formation of an independent science – industrial psychology – throughout his life (Spector, 2021). Unfortunately, because of Münsterberg’s German ancestry and the onset of World War I, many of his achievements were overlooked after his death. Hugo Münsterberg, thus, became of the founders of the discipline building the foundations of it and advocating for the field’s independence.

Frederick Taylor, an industrial engineer, was another significant person in the development of this field. He and other well-known scientists, such as Lillian Gilbreth, worked to increase worker performance by transforming workplaces, developing training programs, and employing selection procedures (Taneja et al., 2011). “The Principles of Scientific Management,” his most well-known publication, is widely regarded as the first management textbook (Riggio, 2017). It is worth noting that he is sometimes referred to as the father of management. Taylor argued in “The Principles of Scientific Management” that longer work durations boost both productivity and pay (Taneja et al., 2011). He contributed to the creation of tool standards and innovative ways for tool shop owners. Taylor has shown that people who take time off from work are more productive. Taylor’s arguments were strongly opposed at the time, despite the possible improvement in productivity, because it was assumed that this would lower the number of people required. The underlying premise that only the management could identify the most efficient manner of working and that the worker was incapable of doing so was contentious.

Another pioneer in the discipline, Lillian Gilbreth, obtained her Ph.D. in psychology. She is usually referred to as the first female industrial-organizational psychologist and a pioneer of several industrial management techniques (Graham, 2000). She has come up with fresh methods to employ her psychological understanding to boost organizational performance. Her psychological perspective was that all employees essentially want the same thing: to be engaged in decision-making, to be interested in their job, to be happy with the use of their abilities, and to feel secure at work (Graham, 2000). People, on the other hand, have different sorts of successes that make them happy. People intelligently utilize their strengths and skills to express their personality in a gratifying way in their daily employment. They want management to consider their specific demands and interests, as well as draw on their skills to advance the firm’s goals.

Lillian Gilbreth has sought to make the human dimension an essential part of scientific management through contracts with many companies and offices. In fact, her psychological premises may be interpreted in part as a reaction to Taylor’s more well-known system’s practical flaws. While Taylor hoped for a conceptual revolution that would bring together managers and employees to rally around the cause of efficiency and eliminate wasteful practices, he lacked the psychological arsenal needed to pull it off (Spector, 2021). While he was successful in persuading employees to engage in his study, he was unsuccessful in developing psychological intervention programs that would last after he and his colleagues finished their consulting job. This paradigm saw the worker as just slightly more complicated than the “economic man,” which sparked opposition from organized labor and a backlash from psychologists, notably Gilbreth (Spector, 2021). Overall, Lillian Gilbreth became of the pioneering industrial psychologists, laying the foundation of the field and expanding it into other related sectors, such as management.

The entry of the United States into World War I in April 1917 sparked the engagement of psychologists working in this field in the war effort. Because of the First World War, industrial psychology thrived. When the USA got involved in the First World War, field psychologists were tasked with developing a program for the psychological evaluation of recruits as well as a method of choosing troops for specific roles in the armed services (Johns, 1998). Several army intelligence tests were designed under the direction of industrial psychologists (McMillan et al., 2009). These intelligence exams paved the way for large-scale intelligence testing in the future. The inevitable extension of industrial and organizational psychology methods to government, industry, and education was dictated by these developments (Grossnickle, 1998). During and during World War I, specialists in industrial and organizational psychology were heavily involved in government activities (Spector, 2021). This stage of the development of the field was essential since it has established industrial and organizational psychology as a credible and potentially profitable branch.

In the aftermath of the war, the major phenomenon that shifted and developed the field of industrial and organizational psychology was the so-called Hawthorn Study, which drastically enhanced the organizational aspect of the field. Hawthorne’s research work was a watershed moment in the growth of industrial and organizational psychology because it highlighted the relevance of the human component of organizations (Riggio, 2017). Another research on ways for increasing efficiency and productivity discovered that social characteristics of the organization, such as workgroups and employees’ understanding that they are being observed, had an impact on employee behavior and output (Huang et al., 2013). Many managers’ perspectives on motivation, productivity, and employee happiness have shifted as a result of this.

Engineers at the Hawthorne Western Electric facility chose to investigate the impact of shifting light levels on worker productivity, which led to further studies. Professor Elton Mayo and a group of academics were invited to join Hawthorne engineers in their investigation in 1927 (McMillan et al., 2009). Mayo and his colleagues experimented with job rearrangement, the length of the working day and week, the duration of breaks, and incentive systems from 1927 to 1932 (Johns, 1998). Productivity increases were linked to a complicated combination of employee attitudes, according to research findings. Managers that gave employees some influence over their situations tended to boost employee motivation even more (Riggio, 2017). These findings gave rise to the Hawthorne effect, which states that employees will perform better if they believe they are deserving of special attention or that management is concerned about their well-being (Grossnickle, 1998). Informal work groups, employee social interactions, and the associated group pressures have been shown to have a favorable influence on group performance in studies.

With the onset of World War II, the study of industrial and organizational psychology was once again able to develop in response to the military’s expanding demands. The Second World War not only broadened the scope of industrial and organizational psychology but also gave industrial and organizational psychologists a foot in the door. The American Psychological Association (APA) established Division 14, Industrial and Business Psychology, in response to developments in psychology at the time (Spector, 2021). The American Psychological Association’s branch of industrial and organizational psychology underwent various transformations before becoming the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

Following WWII, multiple research publications were established, graduate programs in industrial psychology grew in popularity, and books on industrial and organizational psychology were prevalent in the psychology field. Business and management aspects have become increasingly prominent in the area. However, industrial and organizational psychology has had a number of setbacks as a result of criticism, including obsolete methodology and a focus on the upper-middle class (Spector, 2021). In the post-war period, there was a noticeable movement toward an organizational focus, which led to the formal field’s name “Industrial and Organizational Psychology” being coined in 1973 (Grossnickle, 1998). This was done in part to avoid many of the concepts created by psychologists in the area from being appropriated and implemented into individual business and management programs in university departments.

In recent years, psychology has played a larger role in shaping public policy, particularly in regard to most labor laws and regulations. Industrial and organizational psychologists, for example, closely monitored the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the American Disability Act of 1990 (Zickar, 2004). Research procedures and statistical approaches have progressed and become more sophisticated from the beginning of this field’s history. Psychologists may now more properly demonstrate how their services can enhance an organization’s capacity due to the availability of utility calculations and other contemporary innovations.


Most people think of therapeutic and mental psychology when they think of psychology; nevertheless, they are not the sole disciplines in this science. The area of industrial and organizational psychology aims to use psychological concepts to effect change in the business environment, therefore improving the way companies function and the quality of people’s work experiences. At the turn of the twentieth century, industrial psychology emerged as a unique field from three independent branches: experimental psychology, differential psychology, and industrial engineering.

With the beginning of World War I, this discipline arose out of a pressing need to understand and strengthen working relationships and organizational procedures. Its relevance to the army and the organizational process inside it shaped its rise in the interwar era following World War I. For a society anticipating another major battle, psychological enhancement of management and administrative capacities was essential. Simultaneously, a transition toward organizational aspects began to emerge, culminating in the post-war period.

The spread of commercial enterprises and the decline of the industry, in his original understanding, were probably the main root cause of this. The burgeoning discipline of business and management predetermined its focus on current technologies to broaden its initial purpose of enhancing the organizational process from a psychological standpoint, despite criticism of the field due to obsolete principles. In today’s world, this field is an essential component of the workplace, contributing to the legislative, advisory, and executive repercussions of business and industry.


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