Strictly speaking, I/O psychology is defined as, “…an applied field that is concerned with the development and application of scientific principles to the workplace” (Spector, 2008, p. 5). On a practical level, the aim of I/O psychology is to, “…improve the quality of the environment for employees as well as to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of employee behavior in that environment” (Barnes-Holmes et. al. , 2006, p. 56).
The concise definition and practical application of I/O psychology are only the capstone to an understanding of the length and breadth of the field. A full examination of the evolution of I/O psychology as well as an explanation of the role that research and statistics play in I/O psychology are needed to form the foundation on which the capstone is placed. Evolution of I/O Psychology I/O psychology has its roots in the late 1800s and early 1900s when early psychologists were trying to apply the theories of psychology to the organization of business (Spector, 2008).
Two scientists are attributed with the founding work of I/O psychology: Huge Munsterberg and Walter Dill Scott. Both were university professors that had an interest in employee selection and the application of new psychological tests to the subject of industry. In fact, two of I/O psychology’s foundational books, The Theory of Advertising (1903) and Psychology and Industrial Efficiency (1913) were written by Scott and Munsterberg, respectively.
The methodological next step beyond Scott and Munsterberg came in 1911 when Frederick Winslow Taylor developed his theory of “Scientific Management”, which puts for a scientific procedure for the managing of production workers on the factory line. The field of I/O psychology took a leap in technological applicability when Frank Gilbreth, an engineer, and Lillian Gilbreth, a psychologists, combined the knowledgebase of their respective fields into one eclectic theory of human factors—which is wholly concerned with the design of technology for use by people (Spector, 2008).
Ironically, it was the destruction of World War I (WWI) and World War II (WWII) that most furthered the development and relevance of I/O psychology. During WWI several psychologists, led by Robert Yerkes, produced the Army Alpha and Army Beta group tests, which were designed to gauge mental ability to the end of proper unit placement. Before WWII the APA proper was not concerned with the practice of psychology in the real-world, but limited itself to experimental psychology.
However, in 1944 Division 14 of Industrial and Business Psychology was formed within the APA to address the need for a practice side of I/O psychology. In 1970 Division 14 was reorganized as the APA Division of Industrial and Organization Psychology and is today referred to as the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP). Over the past century the field of I/O psychology has grown to include work conditions and work satisfaction—the organization side of the field—into the theoretical and academic body of research that the field encompasses.
As an example, the current organizational explanation of individual goals and self-regulatory activities takes an integrative perspective, incorporating the person, the social situation, and environmental factors into one theoretical framework (Kanfer, 2005). Today I/O psychology is applied to both scientific research in the laboratory and practice in the field to deal with the issues and problems that affect businesses and organizations of the day. Research and Statistics in I/O Psychology There are two main settings in which I/O psychology takes place: research and practice (Spector, 2008).
Both settings greatly overlap in the real-world, everyday work of I/O psychologists. The practice division of I/O psychology applies psychological principles to the work environment, business structure, and hiring practices of industries and organizations; whereas, the research division develops the aforementioned psychological principles to be used in the practice of I/O psychology. No matter the setting, I/O psychology utilizes the scientific method to determine the underlying psychological principles and applicable practices relevant to businesses and organizations.
Four concepts necessary to the extrapolation of the cientific method onto the subject-matter of I/O psychology include: 1) the research question; 2) research design; 3) measurement and; 4) statistics. A research question that is testable through the avenues of the scientific method must be specific and usually includes precise theoretical predications about the outcome of the research—hypothesis. The great power of the scientific method comes through the manipulation of independent variables and subsequent observation of dependent variables to the end of unraveling the affects of confounding while simultaneously isolating causal and correlated variables.
The basic structure of research design can be invasive—as in the case of control groups—or simply observational in nature. The several types of research design consist of: survey designs (questionnaires)—both cross-sectional and longitudinal, observational designs—both obtrusive and unobtrusive; and qualitative studies, which entail the use of non-quantitative data to substantiate psychological principles.