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The historical development of industrial and organizational psychology

Industrial and organizational psychology had its origins in the early 20th century. Several influential early psychologists studied issues that today would be categorized as industrial psychology: James Cattell (1860–1944) at Columbia, Hugo Münsterberg (1863–1916) at Harvard, Walter Dill Scott (1869–1955) at Northwestern, Robert Yerkes (1876–1956) and Walter Bingham (1880–1952) at Dartmouth, and Lillian Gilbreth (1878–1972) at Purdue. Cattell, Münsterberg, and Scott had been students of Wilhelm Wundt, the father of experimental psychology. Some of these researchers had been involved in work in the area of industrial psychology before World War I. Cattell’s contribution to industrial psychology is largely reflected in his founding of a psychological consulting company, which is still operating today called the Psychological Corporation, and in the accomplishments of students at Columbia in the area of industrial psychology. In 1913, Münsterberg published Psychology and Industrial Efficiency , which covered topics such as employee selection, employee training, and effective advertising.

Scott was one of the first psychologists to apply psychology to advertising, management, and personnel selection. In 1903, Scott published two books: The Theory of Advertising and Psychology of Advertising . They are the first books to describe the use of psychology in the business world. By 1911 he published two more books, Influencing Men in Business and Increasing Human Efficiency in Business . In 1916 a newly formed division in the Carnegie Institute of Technology hired Scott to conduct applied research on employee selection (Katzell&Austin, 1992).

The focus of all this research was in what we now know as industrial psychology; it was only later in the century that the field of organizational psychology developed as an experimental science (Katzell&Austin, 1992). In addition to their academic positions, these researchers also worked directly for businesses as consultants.

The involvement of the United States in World War I in April 1917 catalyzed the participation in the military effort of psychologists working in this area. At that time Yerkes was the president of the 25-year-old American Psychological Association (APA) . The APA is a professional association in the United States for clinical and research psychologists. Today the APA performs a number of functions including holding conferences, accrediting university degree programs, and publishing scientific journals. Yerkes organized a group under the Surgeon General’s Office (SGO) that developed methods for screening and selecting enlisted men. They developed the Army Alpha test to measure mental abilities. The Army Beta test was a non-verbal form of the test that was administered to illiterate and non-English-speaking draftees. Scott and Bingham organized a group under the Adjutant General’s Office (AGO) with the goal to develop selection methods for officers. They created a catalogue of occupational needs for the Army, essentially a job-description system and a system of performance ratings and occupational skill tests for officers (Katzell&Austin, 1992).

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