The History of Industrial Organizational Psychology

Psychology as a profession was not formally established until 1879, and I/O Psychology was not established for several years after that. However, theories related to the topic where discussed well before 1879. Aristotle discussed several modern management techniques and concepts such as authority, departmentalization, and leader selection. In 1527 Machiavelli gave practical advice on giving structure to organizations. One of the more important additions came from Adam Smith in 1776 with the book “The Wealth of Nations”, where he suggested using centralization of labor in factories, and management of specialization in factories.

1 All of these pre-psychology theories aided in the development and growth of I/O psychology as we know it today. In the early years of psychology many factors contributed to the development of Industrial and Organizational Psychology. One of the first major steps was in 1881 when Joseph Wharton Donated $100,000 to start the first school of professional management at the University of Pennsylvania. The school developed a long history of being innovative in the field of management and continues to do so today. In 1883 Frederick W. Taylor started his experiments at the Bethlehem Steel plant developing his scientific management philosophy.

Taylor is the best known theorists in the scientific management movement. He was both an engineer and consultant who recognized the need for skilled labor in industry. Before his study’s job training was unorganized and workers determined the speed and which they worked. Hiring was on a first come first serve basis without any real consideration for the skill of the worker and people often brought there own tools to work and typically they were not the best tools for the job. Taylor standardized the tools used in factories and picked the ones that worked best.

For example, he developed a science for pig iron handling which enabled an average laborer to increase the amount of pig iron handled from 12 tons to 48 tons a day. 2 Taylor believed in a set of principles that he felt would bring “order to the workplace”. The principles he implemented where as follows: develop the science of work by using time, motion, and fatigue studies; emphasize an absolute adherence to work standards; scientifically select place and train workers; apply a financial incentive system; utilized specialized functional supervision; and develop and maintain friendly labor- management relations.

2 To be successful Taylor stated that scientific management would require a mental revolution on the part of both labor and management1. In 1903 a man by the name of W. L. Bryan gave a presidential address to APA and pushed the study of functions in everyday life and relating them to concrete activities. Along the same time as Taylor, a man named Hugo Munsterberg who is considered the father of industrial psychology did just that. Hugo concentrated on applying psychological concepts to organizational settings. He was on the Harvard faculty and documented conditions that are associated with levels of production.

He also published a book called Psychology and Industrial Efficiency. In the book he stated that managers that use psychological principles can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their organization3. Although he died in 1916, Munsterberg’s theories influenced organizations as late as the 1950’s. World War I brought new innovations and changes to the field of I/O psychology. Robert Yerkes implemented a screening process for new recruits. The process picked out recruits that had mental problems and picked jobs tailored to the individual.

The war also encouraged psychologists to study motivation and morale amongst soldiers. At the same time Walter Dill Scott did research on the placement of soldiers. Scott was a faculty member at Northwestern University and argued the managers were not properly using psychology in organizations. He argued that not only are employees economically motivated but also motivated by social issues and feeling like a member of a group. Scott felt that the managers placed to much focus on getting work done and the technology to do so and not enough focus on good employee selection and supervision (behavioral aspects).

In the years after WWI there were several significant events in the field of I/O. Between the years of 1924 and 1933 gave rise to the Hawthorn Studies conducted in Chicago at the Hawthorne Plant of the Western Electric Company. These studies strongly influenced the behavioral school of management and also helped establish a different way of management and organizational design. The studies focused on the relationship between worker productivity and factors like illumination, length of breaks, length of work, and lunch.

The team of researchers felt that improving factors such as these would improve employee morale and in turn improve productivity. However, the results proved inconsistent. Productivity actually increased at times when decreases were hypothesized. The researchers failed to find a relationship between the quality of the work environment and employee productivity. 4 The researchers then decided to interview a large number of workers. The workers stated that they were affected by the researchers from Harvard and were trying to impress them which caused them to be more productive than they normally would have been.

After a period of time the workers began to get used to researchers observing them and the production levels went back to what they originally were. This is now known as the Hawthorn Effect which states that there is a change in behavior following the onset of new attention or another novel treatment5. In 1933 Elton Mayo stated that “What actually happened was that six individuals became a team and the team gave itself wholeheartedly and spontaneously to cooperation n the experiment.

The consequence was that they felt themselves to be participating freely and without afterthought, and were happy in the knowledge that they were working without coercion from above or limitations from below”. 6 To put it simple, a satisfied worker equals a productive worker and attitude drives behavior. By the start of WWII industrial psychologists had greatly improved there methods of employee selection. The army recruited the I/O psychologists to help with selection of soldiers.

As a result the psychologists came up with the Army General Classification Test and a series of tests on performance under stress for the Office of Strategic Services1. In 1945 Kurt Lewin started the Research Center for Group Dynamics at MIT which performed experiments on group behavior. One of the most important events during the end of the war was in 1946 when the APA formed Division 14 of the American Psychological Association. It was the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology in 1983, and by 1996 it had grown a tremendous amount and had approximately 2500 members. 7

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