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Running head: INDUSTRIAL/ORGANIZATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY
University of Phoenix
Industrial/Organizational psychology (I/O) is a fascinating and engrossing branch in the
field of psychology. Once a discipline that did not provoke much interest, it is today rapidly
growing and receiving much attention. This attention is caused by two major factors. The first
one is because of the focus of I/O psychology. I/O psychology is mostly concerned with the
work environment and therefore, everyone who has held, holds, or will hold a job, is very
interested in the research and outcomes provided by I/O psychology. The other reason is coming
from the investigations done by I/O psychology. These specific investigations produced tested
and proven methods, which are of greatest value to many organizations. It took many years for
I/O psychology to become what it is today and to understand how long and what it took; the
author of this paper will examine the evolution of I/O psychology. In addition, it will be
explained how I/O psychology differs from other branches of psychology, how I/O psychology
can be applied to different organizations and what role research and statistics play in I/O
Evolution of I/O Psychology
The field of psychology has a long history leading as far back as to the ancient Greeks.
The same applies to another branch of psychology, I/O psychology. The work of Plato in the
Republic, the early taxonomy and the suggested methods for picking and training individuals,
can be considered as one of the first steps in the direction of the development of I/O psychology.
Interestingly, another one appeared over 3000 years ago when the Chinese created a “system for
bureaucrats that started with local examinations, continued through provincial assessments, and
finished with final evaluations in the capital; this system was used until 1905” (Katzell & Austin,
n.d, p. 803). Even though these first attempts exhibited similarities to the work of what I/ O
psychology does these days, they were still segregated and then later withdrawn. Clearly, the
development of I/O psychology can take one far back in time; however, the true roots of this
discipline lead one back to the 1900s. The interest and the use of I/O psychology was, in the
beginning, chiefly occupied with subjects such as personnel selection, and the gaining and
learning of new skills. The purpose of these studies at that specific time was trying to increase
job performance while reducing fatigue of employees in his or her workplace. The results of
these findings were then published in a psychological bulletin, which was directed by A. W.
Kornhauser (Katzell & Austin, n.d.).
The industrial part of I/O psychology developed much faster than the organizational one
and was led by pioneers like Hugo Munsterberg, Walter Dill Scott, and Walter Bingham. As
mentioned before, the focus was on personnel selection and learning a new skill, which explains
why the organizational part of the I/O psychology grew slower. Very interestingly, mostly nonpsychologists influenced the organizational component. Frederick Winslow Taylor, who was an
engineer, strongly affected the I/O psychology. He composed what he called ““Scientific
Management” as an approach to handling production workers in factories” (Spector, 2008, p.
10). His Scientific management included various proposals including examination of jobs,
employee selection, and training of employees, which are currently being considered and used
today. Another significant influence on I/O psychology came from the couple Lillian and Frank
Gilbreth. Lillian, a trained psychologist and teacher, and Frank a self-learned engineer, both
brought engineering and psychology together. Lillian and Frank are known for being working
parents with 12 children and for their work about time and motion, which set the ground in
designing the best working technology for humans. Another boost for the field of I/O
psychology came during World War I when psychologists offered their knowledge to the Army.
The knowledge and tests (the alpha and beta tests) provided by I/O psychology helped the
military in fitting recruits with their new jobs. In addition, I/O psychology also helped in the
development of certain mass tests including the SAT test, which is still being used in educational
settings (Spector, 2008).
During World War I and World War II, I/O psychology moved into the work
environment and is widely used these days. Another turning point for I/O psychology came from
the Hawthorne studies, which helped in the organizational development of I/O psychology.
Before the Hawthorne studies, the focus was mostly directed on increasing the fruitfulness of
employees and on organizational effectiveness. However, now I/O psychology began to also pay
attention to other aspects, such as the social nature. World War II additionally helped I/O
psychology to be finally more respectfully accepted by the American Psychological Association
(APA), which limited their interest prior to this discipline (Spector, 2008). Another important
factor that helped grow I/O psychology was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It supported how
organizations would treat and hire individuals. As stated by Spector (2008), “I/O psychologists
were called upon to help develop procedures that would eliminate discrimination in the
workplace” (Spector, 2008, p. 13).
The Difference between I/O Psychology and other Disciplines of Psychology
The difference between I/O psychology and other disciplines is very distinct. I/O
psychology is a subfield with other disciplines including personal psychology. I/O psychology
studies the behaviors of individuals in their work settings. However, its focus is not entirely set
on an individual itself. Instead, I/O psychology also acknowledges one’s behavior and therefore,
what it does and how it influences the environment (especially the workplace). I/O psychology
differs from other disciplines such as engineering psychology because it is not entirely
“concerned with the human aspects of the design of tools, machines, work spaces, information
systems, and aspects of the work environment” (Cascio & Aguinis, 2005, p.4). It is also
different from social psychology because it is not entirely occupied with the influence and
strengths of an individual’s social behavior. Instead, I/O psychology is built out of science, uses
detailed research and testing, and its focus is on the differences in one’s behavior and job
performance. Clearly, I/O psychology is not a discipline that assumes something; rather, it
prefers to support its findings and results by research and statistics (Cascio & Aguinis, 2005).
The use of I/O Psychology in Organizations
I/O psychology is very valuable to most organizations. Organizations very often take the
help of an I/O psychologist whenever they are trying to employ new individuals, when they are
experiencing problems within the organization or with an employee and are in need of specific
training. I/O psychologists study not only the behavior of individuals working for a company but
in addition, they assess organizations and administer exercises. While they can benefit an
organization, I/O psychology also helps the employee. I/O psychology can advise, through
specific testing, if an employee is suited for a specific kind of job. It can help one find a job that
fits one the best based on an individual’s characteristics and it can improve the work
environment. Therefore, I/O psychology does not only care about the effectiveness of an
organization but it also makes sure that the employees are happy. Certainly, I/O psychology is
involved in the overall betterment of the workforce (Jex, 2002).
The role of Research and Statistics
The role research and statics have in the field of I/O psychology is of utmost importance.
Part of this is because I/O psychology is rooted in scientific research. One of the roles I/O
psychology has is to gather and study significant data on either organizational or employee
related issues. An I/O psychologist begins his or her research by using the scientific method and
asking a question. Based on the question, a hypothesis is formed, which assumes the outcome of
the research preformed by an I/O psychologist. This research is made of different research
concepts, acknowledges variables (depended and independent) and can happen in different
settings including a laboratory or in the field. Whenever research is done, generalizability seems
to be an issue and should be taken into consideration. As stated by Spector (2008),
“Generalizability of results means that the conclusions of a study can be extended to other
groups of people, organizations, settings, or situations” (p.28). Another important aspect in
research is control because it can diminish other alternatives in a study. There are various ways
how to achieve control and one of them is a control group. A control group is a group of
individuals who can be conditioned or manipulated. There are also random assignments and
random selection. Random assignment provides equal chance to be assigned to every condition.
Random selection refers to being chosen by a nonsystematic method (Spector, 2008). When
confounding occurs, it is because “two or more variables are intertwined in such a way that
conclusions cannot be drawn about either one” (Spector, 2008, p. 30). The fundamental form of
a scientific study is the research design. Research design is a combination of the experiment,
survey design, observational design, and qualitative studies. When characteristics of individuals
or things express the quantity, this is referred to as measurement process. There are two kinds of
measurements, which are categorical or continuous. Reliability and validity are also vital to this
process. In addition, most of the studies carried out by I/O psychology require the use of
statistics. The two most common used statistics by the I/O psychology are descriptive and
interferential statistics. Because I/O psychology is scientific research, it requires studies and
statistics. Research and statistics allow I/O psychology to gather important data, interpret it
correctly, and arrange it more orderly (Spector, 2008).
Though rooted in traditional psychology, it differs from most fields because of its focus
and today, it is almost impossible to live without I/O psychology. Its value to employees,
employers, and the workplace cannot be overstated. I/O psychology helps one to find a job that
best suits him or her and to be a better employee. It helps businesses become more efficient and
avoid or correct problems in the workplace utilizing descriptive and inferential statistics.
Clearly, with its long history and numerous benefits, I/O psychology will remain in our business
world for a long time to come.
Cascio, W., F & Aguinis, H. (2005). Applied psychology in human resource management (6th.
ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Jex, S., M. (2002). Organizational psychology: A scientist-practitioner approach. Hoboken, NJ:
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Katzell, R., & Austin, J. (n.d). From Then to Now: The Development of IndustrialOrganizational Psychology in the United States. Journal of Applied Psychology, 77(6),
803-835. Retrieved from SocINDEX with Full Text database.
Spector, P., E. (2008). Industrial and organizational psychology: Research and practice (5th.ed.).
Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.