The field of industrial and organizational (I/O) psychology has been studied since the infancy of psychology itself (Spector, 2008). In the beginning, I/O psychology was wholly concerned with the industrial side of the field—which concentrated on the management aspects of business and emphasized human resources—as opposed to the organization side, which is concerned with improving work conditions in the workplace. Yet, as the field has grown over the years it has come to include the full spectrum of industry and organization.
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 too 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 scientific 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. The classical measurement theory (CMT) dictates that two types of variables, true score and error, are possible in any research situation (Spector, 2008).
Error involves random influences and usually equal zero when averaged out in measures of central tendency. True score is the variable of interest and the item to be measured during the course of research. Also, CMT implies that, “…specific individual behaviors are simply too unreliable to assess any construct” (Ones & Viswesvaran, 2002, p. 47). As reliability relates to CMT, reliability is, “…the relative size of the error to true score components” (Spector, 2008, p. 37).
Measurements themselves can be put into two categories: categorical measurement—numbered groups not representative of quantitative description—and continuous measurement--numbers representative of quantitative variables. Both types of measurement can be used when abbreviation large bodies of numerical data into a summary analysis, otherwise known as descriptive statistics. Furthermore, correlations can be used to relate a summary of measurements and show the direction of the relationship—positive or negative.
Conversely, inferential statistics allows I/O psychologists to superimpose measurements of small groups that have been studied onto generalized populations. In all, the four components of: the research question, research design, and measurement and statistics frame the use, approach, and implementation of the scientific method in the field of I/O psychology.
In Conclusion The discipline of I/O psychology grew out of the humble beginnings of industry to include all manners of organizational and industrial research and practice in the realms of laboratory experimentation and in-the-field implementation. In large part the destructiveness of both World Wars brought I/O out of the purely theoretical into the realm of the pragmatic and applicability.
I/O psychologists utilize the scientific method—which is built upon the precepts of the research question, research design, and statistics—to end of elucidating causality, correlation, or description. The future of I/O psychology will be concerned with both the practice and science of industrial efficiency and organizational human relations to address workplace problems and issues.
References Barnes-Holmes, D., Barnes-Holmes, Y., Bond, F.W., Hayes, S.C., Stewart, I. (2006). Relational frame theory and industrial/organizational psychology. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 26(1/2), 55-90. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from Education Research Complete database. Kanfer, R. (2005). Self-regulation research in work and I/O psychology. Applied Psychology:
An International Review, 54(2), 186-191. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from Human Resources Abstracts database. Ones, D.S., Viswesvaran, C. (2002). Industrial-organizational (I/O) psychology to organizational behavior management (OBM): Join the family-individual differences matter. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 22(2), 41-57. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from Education Research Complete database. Spector, P. (2008). Industrial and organizational psychology: Research and practice, 5e. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.