Industrial and organizational (I–O) psychology is a relatively young field. The industrial aspect focuses on improving, evaluating, and predicting job performance, while the organizational aspect focuses on how organizations impact and interact with individuals. Collectively, industrial and organizational psychology is the scientific study of employees, workplaces, and organizations. I–O psychologists are employed by academic institutions, consulting firms, human-resources departments in companies, and governmental institutions. Various universities across the United States are beginning to strengthen their I–O psychology programs due to increased job demand in the field.
History of I–O Psychology
The roots of I–O psychology trace back nearly to the beginning of psychology as a science, when Wilhelm Wundt founded one of the first psychological laboratories in 1876 in Leipzig, Germany. In the mid 1880s, Wundt trained two psychologists who had a major influence on the emergence of I–O psychology: Hugo Munsterberg and James McKeen Cattell. Cattell was one of the first researchers to identify the importance of recognizing individual differences when trying to predict and understand human behavior. In 1910, Munsterberg and Walter Dill Scott helped industrial psychology gain recognition as a legitimate part of the social sciences through their research. Scott, who was also a contemporary of Cattell, was elected president of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1919, and was arguably the most prominent I–O psychologist of his time.
One of Scott's interests was applying psychological theories to analyzing business problems. Some of his personnel-selection methods included tests to measure certain desirable characteristics using rating scales to rank applicants on necessary skills and attributes (appearance, demeanor, neatness, judgment, and accuracy). In another research pursuit, Scott tried to make the marketplace and workplace more efficient through the rationalization of consumer and worker activities, especially by appealing to the self-interest of shoppers and laborers.
James McKeen Cattell
Cattell was one of the first to recognize the importance of taking individual differences into account when trying to predict and better understand employee behavior.
Industrial psychology began to gain prominence when Elton Mayo arrived in the United States in 1924. Unlike Scott, Mayo was fascinated by the emotions and pathologies of workers rather than their efficiency. His observations of workers were studied to see if employees would be likely to resist management attempts to increase productivity, or if they were likely to create labor unions. These studies are known as the Hawthorne studies, and their results ushered in a radically new field known as the human-relations movement. This movement centered around the more complicated theories of motivation, the emotional world of the worker, job satisfaction, and interviews with workers.
Organizational psychology was not officially added to the psychological canon until the 1970s, but since then the field has flourished. In 1973, "organizational" was added to the name to emphasize the fact that when an individual joins an organization (e.g., the employer), he or she will be exposed to a common goal and a common set of operating procedures.
Goals of I–O Psychology
Industrial-organizational psychologists look at questions surrounding workplace issues. They might recommend hiring procedures for prospective employees, define and measure successful job performance, or prepare people to be more successful in their jobs. Others might promote job safety, try to increase job satisfaction at a company, or restructure an orgazation to allow optimal achievement. Overall, I–O psychologists contribute to an organization's success by improving the performance, satisfaction, safety, health, and well-being of its employees. An I–O psychologist conducts research on employee behaviors and attitudes, and how these can be improved through hiring practices, training programs, feedback, and management systems. I–O psychologists also help organizations make effective transitions among periods of change and development.