Industrial and Organizational Psychology

In society, psychology has a definite role in assuring workplaces have environments that are both productive and healthy for workers. Perhaps in the future robots will make psychology in the workplace unnecessary but for now, organizations are all about people. People in the right occupation with the right peers and the right environment can be both productive and happy. The role of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (I/O Psychology) is to ensure that just such an environment exists. Therefore, to perform this function the I/O Psychologist must focus on human beings. However, since revenue is key to survival of any organization the I/O Psychologist must also satisfy the expectations of organizational management. Meeting these expectations requires using proper research methods to increase productivity and maintain employee happiness. The evolution of the science of I/O Psychology is an explanation of these methods.

Evolution of I/O Psychology

According to Spector (2006 p. 4) “Psychology is the science of human (and nonhuman) behavior, cognition, emotion, and motivation.” Spector (2006) further explains that Industrial and Organizational Psychology (I/O) falls into a psychology subdivision of applied psychology. In fact, I/O is the most science-based division of psychology and the most applicable in society. The last of the 1800s and the first years of the 1900s were the beginning of I/O Psychology. Hugo Munsterberg and Walter Dill Scott are associated with the beginning of I/O Psychology. This branch of psychology in the beginning focused on increasing efficiency and performance in the workplace. Taylor (1911 as cited by Spector, 2006) suggested criteria such as examining every job so the most efficient way of accomplishing the job could be determined, matching people with jobs, careful training and proper reward.

Spector (2006) points to the important contribution of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth a spouse team with Frank being an engineer and Lillian possibly being the first ever to receive a Ph.D. in I/O Psychology. The Gilbreths did a time and motion study to determine efficient ways of accomplishing tasks. The Gilbreths work would later evolve into the field of human factors, which deals with the best designs of technology for people. When world war came, I/O Psychology took a lead in development because of the army’s need to place the right recruits in the right position. The psychological tests in use at that time evolved into the tests in use today like the Scholastic Aptitude Test and employee testing with organizations. In the time after World War I, psychologists were first hired by industry to analyze productivity. The psychologists soon found that social aspects in companies had a large effect on the performance of workers. This knowledge led to the organizational part of I/O Psychology. The Hawthorne Studies done at this time included a study done to determine lighting levels to increase performance. The lighting level changes did not produce a marked change in productivity but the study revealed that social factors were very important in productivity.

Spector (2006) explains World War II was an incredible boost to I/O Psychology. Not only were many psychologists needed for the war effort but also the APA acknowledged applied psychology. These two factors established I/O Psychology as a field that was both scientific and applicable to help society in many ways. During the war methods in job placement, how to train, team formation, designs for equipment and evaluation of performance were developed. The Civil Rights movements also affected I/O Psychology because of new criteria for hiring and firing employees. The success of the methods in the history of I/O Psychology helped lay a firm foundation for I/O Psychology today.

The Role of Research

Spector (2006) emphasizes the importance of research in I/O Psychology. This research helps develop methods for hiring and training employees. However, this is just one part of the role of research. Research helps with the understanding of employee and management behavior like determining the reason an employee might steal or the source of attitudes on the job. Psychologists through journals and associations share the results of tests. Every phase of society has organizations involved and the research done by psychologists has an effect on how well these entities function. The role of research in universities is also very important in furthering everyone’s knowledge in I/O Psychology.

Hanges and Outtz (n.d.) explain that their University of Maryland research group is involved in research projects like examining the procedures of organizations along with culture to see how leaders are affected in both behaviors and traits. Another project is the “Application of neural networks for modeling nonlinear relationships” (p. 1, ¶ 3). Other projects specifically address business practices like analyzing the methods and results of negotiating and bargaining.


The field of I/O Psychology is a great source for the reliability and validity of psychology as an applied science. Increased performance and job satisfaction are proof of the validity of the methods in use by I/O Psychologists. The industrial revolution provided fertile ground for I/O Psychology but perhaps war was the catalyst for the rapid growth in this field as in many sciences. The research done during both World War I and II not only firmly established psychology in the curriculum of universities but also began the merging of psychology with other sciences. In addition, I/O Psychology gained acceptance in the APA as an applied science a milestone in the history of psychology. These successes led to greater expectations for I/O Psychology and high emphasis on research in universities. The practical application of psychology in the form of I/O Psychology leaves little doubt to both the reliability and validity of this scientific branch.


Hanges, P. & Outtz, J. (n.d.). Graduate program in industrial and organizational psychology. Retrieved January 11, 2009 from

Spector, P.E. (2006). Industrial and organizational psychology: research and practice, 4th edition. ISBN: 0-471-69099-6, [Electronic Edition]

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