Classics in the History of Psychology

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Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario

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Psychology and Industrial Efficiency

Hugo Münsterberg (1913)


WHILE in this way the progress of psychology itself and the development of the psychology of individual differences favored the growth of applied psychology, there arose at the same time an increasing demand in the midst of practical life. Especially the teachers and the physicians, later the lawyers as well, looked for help from exact psychology. The science of education and instruction had always had some contact with the science of the mind, as the pedagogues could never forget that the mental development of the child has to stand in the centre of educational thought. For a long while pedagogy was still leaning on a philosophical psychology, after that old-fashioned study of the soul had been given up in psychological quarters. At last, in the days of progressive experimental psychology, the time came when the teachers under the pressure of their new needs began to inquire how far the modern laboratory could aid them in the classroom. The pedagogical psychology of memory, of attention, of will, and of intellect was systematically worked up by men with practical [p. 12] school interests. We may notice in the movement a slow but most important shifting. At first the results of theoretical psychology were simply transplanted into the pedagogical held. Experiments which were carried on in the interest of pure theoretical science were made practical use of, but their application remained a mere chance by-product. Only slowly did the pedagogical problems themselves begin to determine the experimental investigation. The methods of laboratory psychology were applied for the solving of those problems which originated in the school experience, and only when this point was reached could a truly experimental pedagogy be built on a psychological foundation. We stand in the midst of this vigorous and healthy movement, which has had a stimulating effect on theoretical psychology itself.

We find a similar situation in the sphere of the physician. He could not pass by the new science of the mind without instinctively feeling that his medical diagnosis and therapy could be furthered in many directions by the experimental method. Not only the psychiatrist and nerve specialist, but in a certain sense every physician had made use of a certain amount of psychology in his professional work. He had always had to make clear to himself the mental experiences of the patient, [p. 13] to study his pain sensations and his feelings of comfort, his fears and his hopes, his perceptions and his volitions, and to a certain degree he had always tried to influence the mental life of the patient, to work on him by suggestion and to help him by stimulating his mind. But as far as a real description and explanation of such mental experiences came in question, all remained a dilettantic semi-psychology which worked with the most trivial conceptions of popular thinking. The medical men recognized the disproportion between the exactitude of their anatomical, physiological, and pathological observation and the superficiality of their self-made psychology. Thus the desire arose in their own medical circle to harmonize their psychological means of diagnosis and therapy with the schemes of modern scientific psychology. The physician who examines the sensations in a nervous disease, or the intelligence in a mental disease, or heals by suggestion or hypnotism, tries to apply the latest discoveries of the psychological laboratory. But here, too, the same development as in pedagogy can be traced. The physicians at first made use only of results which had been secured under entirely different points of view, but later the experiments were subordinated to the special medical problems. Then the physician was no longer obliged simply [p. 14] to use what he happened to find among the results of the theoretical psychologist, but carried on the experiments in the service of medical problems. The independent status of experimental medical psychology could be secured only by this development.

In somewhat narrower limits the same may be said as to the problems of law. A kind of popular psychology was naturally involved whenever judges or lawyers analyzed the experience on the witness stand or discussed the motives of crime or the confessions of the criminal or the social conditions of criminality. But when every day brought new discoveries in the psychological laboratory, it seemed natural to make use of the new methods and of the new results in the interest of the courtroom. The power of observation in the witness, the exactitude of his memory, the character of his illusions and imagination, his suggestibility and his feeling, appeared in a new light in view of the experimental investigations, and the emotions and volitions of the criminal were understood with a new insight. Here, too, the last step was taken. Instead of being satisfied with experiments which the psychologist had made for his own purposes, the students of legal psychology adjusted experiments to the particular needs of the courtroom. Investigations were carried on to [p. 15] determine the fidelity of testimony or to find methods for the detection of hidden thoughts and so on. Efforts toward the application of psychology have accordingly grown up in the fields of pedagogy, medicine, and jurisprudence, but as these studies naturally do not remain independent of one another, they all together form. the one unified science of applied psychology.[2]

As soon as the independence of this new science was felt, it was natural that new demands and new problems should continue to originate within its own limits. There must be applied psychology wherever the investigation of mental life can be made serviceable to the tasks of civilization. Criminal law, education, medicine, certainly do not constitute the totality of civilized life. It is therefore the duty of the practical psychologist systematically to examine how far other purposes of modern society can be advanced by the new methods of experimental psychology. There is, for instance, already far-reaching agreement that the problems of artistic creation, of scientific observation, of social reform, and many similar endeavors must be acknowledged as organic parts of applied psychology. Only one group of purposes is so far surprisingly neglected in the realm of the psychological laboratory: the purposes of the economic life, the purposes of commerce and [p. 16] industry, of business and the market in the widest sense of the word. The question how far applied psychology can be extended in this direction is the topic of the following discussions.

[2] The practical applications of psychology in education, law, and medicine, I have discussed in detail in the books: Münsterberg: Psychology and the Teacher. (New York, 1910.) Münsterberg: On the Witness Stand. (New York, 1908) (English edition under the title: Psychology and Crime.) Münsterberg: Psychotherapy. (New York, 1909)