Organizational Psychology: History, What It Studies, Areas, Techniques, Authors

The  organizational psychology , also known as industrial psychology or work, is an applied branch derived from the study of human behavior. This discipline is responsible for understanding all the psychological and behavioral factors in the field of work, and applies the theories drawn from psychology in general to different topics related to companies and organizations.

Organizational psychology experts use the scientific method to investigate the different factors that impact the work and personal life of workers. Thus, among other things, they investigate topics such as motivation, productivity, job satisfaction, job security and the physical and mental health of employees.

The goal of organizational psychology is both to understand the factors that influence all these aspects of the field of work, and to design interventions that allow them to improve based on the data collected. It is common for experts in this field to develop techniques and processes related to phenomena such as recruitment, training, leadership and team management.

Today, organizational psychology is one of the fastest growing professions in the world. Due to this, more and more professionals in the field of mental health are specializing in this discipline. In this article we will see what it consists of, how it arises and what are its areas of study.


Early years

Although organizational psychology as a recognized discipline would emerge much later, by the end of the 19th century some of its practices began to appear in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Germany. From this moment it began to develop relatively quickly.

In the 80s of the 19th century, two of the students of the first psychology laboratory in history, Hugo Münsterberg and James Cattell, began to carry out the first investigations relating psychology and work. For example, Cattell studied the impact of individual differences on behavior in the work environment.

In the United States, Walter Dill Scott was one of the main proponents of organizational psychology during its early stages. This president of the American Psychological Association (APA) worked at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, where he developed methods for recruiting and training salespeople with other colleagues.

Later, during World War I , organizational psychology had a great development due to the need to recruit new soldiers quickly and assign them to the positions that best fit their personality. Thus, in the first decade of the twentieth century, different intelligence and aptitude tests were developed to be used for the selection of personnel in the army.

One of the most famous tests developed at this time was the  Army Alpha , created from those used by Binet and Stanford.

After the war

After World War I the United States experienced strong economic and industrial growth. Due to the great success of aptitude tests in recruiting new soldiers, many employers wanted similar tools to choose their own workers.

In addition to this, some researchers began to study which aspects of work and where it was carried out had the greatest influence on the behavior of workers and their performance. Research was conducted at this time on individual differences, rest periods, informal relationships between employees, and employee morale.

During this time the American Psychological Association created a section called the “Division of Industrial and Business Psychology.” After undergoing several name changes, in 1982 it became a much more independent body from the APA, renamed the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

This name change reflects the modification of the perspective of psychologists related to this area. Although at first they only cared about the efficiency of factory workers, today their scope of work is much broader and is more related to the feeling of belonging to a company and the group dynamics that occur within from the same.

Today, organizational psychology has adopted a much more personalized and humanistic approach, caring about the well-being of workers and their specific needs. Today this discipline is present in practically all companies in developed countries.

What does organizational psychology study? Object of study

The main aspects that this branch of psychology studies about organizations are structure, climate, culture, social systems and organizational processes.

At a general level, organizational psychology is the discipline in charge of understanding all the factors that affect the performance of companies and their workers in their professional work. At the same time, professionals in this field have to design effective interventions to improve results and increase the well-being of all those involved.

Thus, for example, an organizational psychologist could carry out a study on the individual needs of a person with the intention of guiding them at the work level and recommending a specific job; but it could also be dedicated to the selection of personnel for a professional opportunity, or the training and qualification of workers in a specific skill.

In any case, organizational psychology is a predominantly practical discipline. Contrary to what happens in other areas of the study of human behavior, in this sector the majority of investigations are carried out with the intention of using them immediately in the real world.


The main objectives of organizational psychology can be summarized in two main aspects.

On the one hand, this applied science is used to improve performance and labor productivity, examining the functioning of the organization and detecting the areas to intervene.

On the other hand, organizational psychology is used to increase and enhance the personal development of workers and improve their quality of life in the workplace.

Definition of organizational psychology according to different authors

There are many authors who have proposed different definitions of the concept of organizational psychology. In order to review the particularities of this branch of psychology, the most important ones are discussed below.

– Spector

In 2002, Spector defined the concept of organizational and / or industrial psychology as “a small field of applied psychology that refers to the development and applications of scientific principles in the workplace.”

– Andy and Conte

Three years later, Andy and Conte reviewed Spector’s conceptualization and reformulated the term organizational psychology as “the application of psychology, theory, and research to the workplace.”

– Blum and Neylor

These authors were one of the pioneers in establishing the concept of organizational psychology and defined it as “the application or extension of psychological facts and principles to problems that concern human beings working within the context of business and industry.”

– Furnham

According to Furnham, organizational psychology is “the study of the way in which people are recruited, selected and socialized in organizations.”

Organizational Psychology Areas

Organizational psychology today comprises a very broad spectrum of study topics; but some of its leading figures have attempted to divide the issues it addresses into several easily distinguishable categories. Next we will see one of the most accepted classifications.

– Staff pick

Recruitment is probably the most common area in organizational psychology. Experts in this area research the requirements that the ideal job candidate must meet. Once you know them, they will be in charge of selecting the workers with the most potential for the specific position.

Among the most used tools within the personnel selection we find questions, surveys, tests and live tests to know as deeply as possible the capabilities of the candidates.

– Training and development

Organizational psychologists specialized in this area are responsible for determining which skills are most important to achieve good results in a specific discipline. After they have done their research, they prepare training programs to help employees meet the requirements expected of them.

Once the training programs are implemented, the organizational development psychologists have to evaluate the results achieved by the employees through different types of tests and tests. The objective of this is to be able to design better interventions in the future, in such a way that higher quality results are obtained each time.

– Performance management

Organizational psychologists in charge of this area have as their main objective to carry out investigations to see if employees are reaching their maximum potential and carrying out their work correctly.

On the other hand, experts in this discipline also develop interventions that allow to improve performance in this regard if it is necessary to do so.

– Ergonomics

Although it has not always been considered a field of organizational psychology, ergonomics plays a very important role in the well-being of workers. It is about the study of physical spaces and their impact on performance, emotions and motivation of employees.

– Laboral life

This branch of organizational psychology seeks to help employees achieve the maximum possible satisfaction in their work while increasing their work performance. To achieve this, experts in this area design interventions to improve the quality of life in the work environment, and try to make the task itself more rewarding.

– Organizational development

The last area in which experts in organizational psychology can work is in the design of interventions to improve the results of a company, both economically and in terms of performance and productivity.

Among the tasks carried out by the experts in this area are some such as the redesign of products, the study and improvement of the organizational structure, the market study or direct intervention on certain areas of the company that are not working as they should. .

Techniques and instruments used

Organizational psychology focuses all its efforts on investigating the most common problems in the workplace and solving them as far as possible. For this they use all kinds of tools derived from psychology in general, as well as others of their own creation that can help them in their task.

Among the techniques and instruments most used by organizational psychologists we find the following:

– Test that are used to better understand the personality, capacities and aptitudes of workers.

– Structured and unstructured interviews to understand in depth each of the employees or candidates of a company.

– “Live test” or dynamics, which allow workers to be put in problematic situations similar to those they will encounter in the performance of their work and observe their response.

– Training on different aspects of the performance of professional work, such as leadership, motivation, ergonomics, business structure or market research.

– Surveys and questionnaires that allow to better understand the opinions and needs of each of the workers of a company, as well as those of the directors of the same.

Authors and their theories

Many authors have helped promote organizational psychology as an independent and valid discipline. Here we will see some of the most important.

– Frederick Taylor


This American inventor and engineer is recognized as the creator of science-based work management. His work was based on time management in industrial and business projects, as well as improving productivity by reducing periods of lost time and increasing the efficiency of workers’ tasks.

– Henry Fayol

Fayol was one of the first researchers to document and classify the principles that a company must follow to be successful in the market. Among them were some such as discipline, the division of tasks among workers, the need for a single hierarchy of command, fair and equal remuneration and the pursuit of the general interest.

– Elton Mayo

Elton Mayo was one of the first researchers to care about the motivations and well-being of workers in an industry. He believed that in order to achieve the best results at work level, it was necessary to take care of the psychological well-being of employees, in such a way that they felt motivated to carry out their work in the best possible way.

Professional outings

To date, organizational psychology has become one of the branches of the study of human behavior with the greatest demand at the workplace. Excluding clinical psychology (which many people engage in autonomously and without collaborating with companies), social psychology and human resources are two of the areas that have the most employees worldwide.

In fact, various studies show that this discipline is among one of the fastest growing currently and is expected to continue to do so in the future. Due to this, more and more psychology students are opting to dedicate themselves to this branch.

An organizational psychologist can apply for many different jobs. Some of the most common tasks performed by these people are the selection of personnel, the training of employees and candidates for a specific job, or the intervention to improve the working conditions of the members of a company.

Nowadays practically all modern companies have a Human Resources department, so the demand for organizational psychology professionals continues to grow.

In what types of organizations do organizational psychologists work?

The organizational psychologist usually works in medium-sized companies, with more than 20 employees, being essential in large companies, which have a Human Resources department.

Likewise, there is professional opportunity to work in public organizations, such as universities, city councils, NGOs, etc.


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