Industrial-Organizational Psychology: History, Movement & Walter Dill Scott

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  • 0:03 The Efficacy of…
  • 0:51 The History of IO Psychology
  • 1:46 Walter Dill Scott
  • 2:52 The IO Psychology Movement
  • 4:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Gaines Arnold
Businesses use psychological principles everyday. This lesson offers an overview of industrial-organizational psychology and the principle players in its foundation, an extended discussion on Walter Dill Scott, and a section on the IO psychology movement.

The Efficacy of Psychology to Business

One worker puts the headlight apparatus on one side of a car all day, every day. One worker helps a doctor schedule appointments, organize patient paperwork, and does the little things that keep the clinic running. One worker sweeps the streets of a small city after a Fourth of July celebration. What do all of these people have in common? Well, they are all working at a job to earn compensation. But that's not all. They each have an opinion about their job, worry about making enough money, and dream of a better career.

These things matter to those who study industrial-organizational (IO) psychology, a branch of psychology that focuses on job satisfaction, job fit, and other issues that affect individual workers, companies, and industries.

The History of Industrial-Organizational (IO) Psychology

Psychology began as a research science in which its founders attempted to separate the science of psychology from the learned opinion of philosophy. Some thought that the research was enough, fortunately others applied that research practically. One industry that benefited from that practical application was business.

A quartet of psychologists laid the foundations of IO psychology:

  • Hugo Munsterberg wrote the first text outlining the new field.
  • James Cattell started the Psychological Corporation to bring psychology to industry.
  • Walter Bingham was the dean of the first IO psychology program at the university level.
  • Walter Dill Scott took IO psychology from its fledgling beginnings and made it the well-regarded partner of business it has become. Scott is considered by many to be the founder and father of IO psychology.

Walter Dill Scott

Scott, unlike the other psychologists recognized as early contributors to IO psychology, was a true industrial psychologist. He did not work in other fields of psychology but began his career helping advertisers write better copy. He applied psychological research to sales and was so successful that he wrote one of the first advertising textbooks. His work in sales led him to the selection of salesmen. He believed that knowing what people wanted in a product (the advertising aspect of business) provided him with the knowledge necessary to select the people who could best engage the public in the sale of those products.

This selection of salesmen brought him to one of the largest recruitment projects ever attempted: choosing soldiers to fight in World War I. The United States had just entered the first World War, and the government wanted a system by which soldiers could be placed successfully into the officer and enlisted ranks, and disqualified if need be. Scott was instrumental in creating the Army Alpha and Army Beta intelligence tests that were designed for this purpose.

The IO Psychology Movement

The success of the U.S. Army program greatly increased his notoriety, and Scott quickly became the voice of IO psychology. As a professor at Northwestern University, he trained countless students in the principles of this new branch of science, and whenever asked, he spoke to promote the science. But Walter Dill Scott and those who preceded him were only interested in the worker. The organization, an important part occupational study, was yet to be studied in any depth.

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