What is the scope of industrial psychology ?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Industrial psychology has a very wide and expansive scope.  Its emergence was most felt after World War I, a time in world history when the study of psychology was beginning to emerge and develop great interest around the world.  Seeming to build off of the Modernist movement and its belief that individuals are composed of multiple forms of motivation, industrial/ organizational psychology (I/O) was concerned with the psyche of the worker, successful motivating elements within them, and how businesses can modify approaches in order to tap into this reservoir of productivity.   The first form of applying I/O approach to workers in industrialized settings was in the form of the Hawthorn studies, which analyzed the effects of slight changes in the work environment and modifications in approaches between management and their employees.  From this, the development and use of aptitude tests, inventory surveys, and expanding into consultation became a component of the operating procedure of businesses.  This also spawned into the presence and variation of performance reviews of workers, analysis of social groupings in the work place, different models to assess progress and improvement of workers, as well as addressing issues of representation in the form of affirmative action.  The driving force behind I/O analysis is how management can better understand itself in relation to its workers, allowing both business and individual to grow and maximize productivity.

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Scope of Industrial Psychology


Industrial psychology is a branch of behavioral science that directs its research and courses of study to business. It is not a new science. In fact one of the earlier books on the subject, Hugo Munsterberg’s “The Psychology of Industrial Efficiency” was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1913. Departments of management, design, production, pricing, marketing and distribution all benefit from knowledge of industrial psychology.

  1. Work Behavior

    • The psychology of work behavior is one form of industrial psychology. Attitudes of employees as related to their performance is a main theme. Variables in employee personalities and abilities are listed and situational and background differences are studied. The industrial psychologist also studies human mental and physical abilities, administering tests and assessing values and establishing job-related criteria. Human-error factors also are monitored, as are costs and causes of accidents.


    • Many management skills fall under the umbrella of industrial psychology. Managers must be educated concerning the area of employee supervision. Expertise in perception and assessment is required in order to make proper decisions as to whether to promote or admonish. Determination of training needs and abilities to resolve conflict are skills that managers would learn in their study of industrial psychology. Motivational tactics are imperative to the success of industry, thus the industrial psychologist also may devise financial or other incentives.

    Environmental Design

    • Environmental design is another area of industrial psychology. The psychology of the work space concerns the environment of the worker. Performance can be affected adversely or positively depending upon the employee’s surroundings. The industrial psychologist recommends physical arrangements, colors, noise, lighting and ergonomics.

    Product Design

    • Product design is another avenue of industrial psychology that is important to a successful business. A product that has been designed bearing safety, efficiency and desirability in mind may have a higher chance of being successful in the marketplace. The industrial psychologist can collect data and analyze buying trends to make recommendations for a feasible, salable design.

    Organizational Studies

    • The overall function of the business may be evaluated by the industrial psychologist. Data relating to job descriptions and hierarchy may be studied and recommendations put forth.