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What is Organizational Psychology? Research Paper

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Updated: May 21st, 2020


Organizational psychology, also known as Industrial psychology but commonly referred as industrial organizational (IO) psychology, is the application of psychology in workplace.

According to Borman, Ilgen, and Klimoski, (2003), organizational psychology is “simply the application or extension of psychological facts and principles to the problems concerning human beings operating within the context of business and industry” (p 4).

In workplace, workers are faced with numerous challenges that if not handled carefully, could result to devastation and reduced employee productivity; hence, affecting the smooth running of an organization. Organizational psychology therefore deals with employees to ameliorate their performance and eudemonia.

Success of any organization depends greatly on the well-being of its workers and this underlines the grandness of organizational psychology in any organization.

Elementary, Organizational psychology seeks to improve employee conduct and attitude through training plans, hiring procedures and feedback programs. There is a lot of research going on in this field to make it better, improve production in organizations, and meet employee needs at the same time.

According to Jex and Britt (2008), researches in this field include analyzing nature of the job in question, performance, recruitment processes, training, balancing work and life, leadership coaching, diversity, decision making, self-motivation, and psychometrics among other disciplines.

Organizational psychology has taken a long route of evolution to be where it is today and this raises the question of its evolution.


Organizational psychology owes its roots to eminent personal differences in any given workplace. No person is a replica of the other; therefore, it becomes tiresome to evaluate employees. This echoes the necessity of organizational psychology for it gives standards by which people can be assessed.

Even though earlier studies indicated that organizational psychology solidified during World War I, current studies traces this field back to politics of Aristotle. McCarthy (2002) posits that, “Aristotle, developed foundations for many modern management concepts, including specialization of labor, delegation of authority, departmentalization, decentralization, and leadership selection.”

However, the word Organizational or Industrial psychology never existed until 1904, when W.L. Brian used this word in his presidential address where he urged people to study “concrete activities and functions as the appear in every day life…to establish ‘real life’ applications of a science of psychology” (McCarthy, 2002).

However, organizational psychology effloresced during World War I when Robert Yerkes; a prominent psychologist, elucidated the need to screen army recruits for genial sicknesses. Moreover, he suggested ways to motivate soldiers going to war and this marked the birth of intelligence test.

Contemporary organizational psychology is hinged on the principles that Yerkes and other psychologists outlined in their intelligence test.

The year 1917 is an important year in the history of organizational psychology; the first copy of Journal of Applied Psychology was published and as McCarthy (2002) points out, this journal “is still perhaps the most respected, representative journal in I/O field today.” However, the best times in this field of psychology were ahead.

Between World War I and II, Morris Viteles, gave organizational psychology a foothold when he published his first book, Industrial Psychology in 1932. Two years later, he published The Science of Work and since then organizational psychology has been a common place in organizations.

By late 1950s, motivational theories had grown which saw the introduction of Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Y to explain the relationship between organizations and workers. In 1980s and 1990s, motivation in workplace had been accepted in different work environments and with the drastic change in technology, the idea spread quickly.

By mid 1990s, employers employed organizational psychology to help employees deal with stress in workplace and to strike a balance between work and family. Organizational psychology is still evolving.

This year, the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) indicated that it would stick with the name despite persistent calls to drop the word “industrial” from it and this is part of evolution.

Organizational psychology compares closely with psychometrics and Organizational development among other disciplines. Organizational Development (OD) just like organizational psychology deals with changing employees’ beliefs and attitudes to incorporate new technologies to meet market demands.

However, while organizational psychology deals with employees only, OD is broader encompassing organizational structures and planning. Therefore, difference between OD and organizational psychology, lies in the subjects addressed in each discipline with OD being a broader field.

On the other hand, Psychometrics is a unit of organizational psychology though it comes out as an independent field of study.

While organizational psychology encompasses other issues like ethics, psychometrics deals with “the construction of instruments and procedures for measurement; and the development and refinement of theoretical approaches to measurement” (Hunter, 1986, p. 341).

As aforementioned, psychometrics lies under organizational psychology; however, they differ in the scope of their study with organizational psychology dealing with diverse subjects as opposed to psychometrics.

Occupational health psychology (OHP) is another upcoming field of study. However, unlike organization psychology that deals with performance and eudemonia, OHP incorporates occupational health, health psychology, and IO psychology itself.

Role of Research and Statistics

As discussed in the IO psychology evolution, this field has taken a relatively long time to be where it is today. Research and statistics are the backbone of this steady development. Through research and statistics, researchers employ evidence-based studies to improve on the current knowledge on IO psychology.

To come up with a valid and reliable program, say, recruitment program, there has to be intense research to substantiate its reliability. It is important to note that, the function of IO psychology is to improve performance and this can only come through credible programs.

Therefore, research and statistics helps in developing these programs. Additionally, it is only through research and statistics that a research objective can be approved as a theory.


Organizational psychology, commonly known as Industrial-Organizational (IO) psychology refers to application of psychology in workplace. This field seeks to improve employees’ performance and eudemonia in workplace.

The well-being of employees reflects the well-being of the organization and this explains why IO psychology has been a common place in organizations. IO psychology has gone through a long process of evolution dating back to Aristotle’s time.

It became deep-rooted during World War I when Robert Yerkes and other psychologists introduced the idea of screening army recruits to detect mental sicknesses. Nevertheless, IO psychology is still under evolution with some people calling for a change of name to omit the word “industrial’ in the name.

Research and statistics play a crucial role in development of IO psychology for these two forms the backbone of efficient IO psychology. Other fields like OHP, Psychometrics and OD, are closely related to IO psychology even though they differ on some principles.

Reference List

Borman, C., Ilgen, D., & Klimoski, J. (Eds.). (2003). Handbook of Psychology: Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Hunter, E. (1986). . Journal of Vocational Behavior, 29(1); 340-362. Web.

Jex, M., & Britt, W. (2008). Organizational Psychology: A Scientist-Practitioner Approach. 2nd Ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons.

McCarthy, P. (2002). Brief Outline of the History of I/O Psychology. Web.

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