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The Riverside Press Cambridge



This book corresponds to a German book, which I published a few months
ago, under the title _Psychologie und Wirlschaftsleben: Ein Beitrag
zur angewandten Experimental-Psychologie_ (Leipzig: J.A. Barth). It is
not a translation, as some parts of the German volume have been
abbreviated or entirely omitted and other parts have been enlarged and
supplemented. Yet the essential substance of the two books is




































Our aim is to sketch the outlines of a new science which is to
intermediate between the modern laboratory psychology and the problems
of economics: the psychological experiment is systematically to be
placed at the service of commerce and industry. So far we have only
scattered beginnings of the new doctrine, only tentative efforts and
disconnected attempts which have started, sometimes in economic, and
sometimes in psychological, quarters. The time when an exact
psychology of business life will be presented as a closed and
perfected system lies very far distant. But the earlier the attention
of wider circles is directed to its beginnings and to the importance
and bearings of its tasks, the quicker and the more sound will be the
development of this young science. What is most needed to-day at the
beginning of the new movement are clear, concrete illustrations which
demonstrate the possibilities of the new method. In the following
pages, accordingly, it will be my aim to analyze the results of
experiments which have actually been carried out, experiments
belonging to many different spheres of economic life. But these
detached experiments ought always at least to point to a connected
whole; the single experiments will, therefore, always need a general
discussion of the principles as a background. In the interest of such
a wider perspective we may at first enter into some preparatory
questions of theory. They may serve as an introduction which is to
lead us to the actual economic life and the present achievements of
experimental psychology.

It is well known that the modern psychologists only slowly and very
reluctantly approached the apparently natural task of rendering useful
service to practical life. As long as the study of the mind was
entirely dependent upon philosophical or theological speculation, no
help could be expected from such endeavors to assist in the daily
walks of life. But half a century has passed since the study of
consciousness was switched into the tracks of exact scientific
investigation. Five decades ago the psychologists began to devote
themselves to the most minute description of the mental experiences
and to explain the mental life in a way which was modeled after the
pattern of exact natural sciences. Their aim was no longer to
speculate about the soul, but to find the psychical elements and the
constant laws which control their connections. Psychology became
experimental and physiological. For more than thirty years the
psychologists have also had their workshops. Laboratories for
experimental psychology have grown up in all civilized countries, and
the new method has been applied to one group of mental traits after
another. And yet we stand before the surprising fact that all the
manifold results of the new science have remained book knowledge,
detached from any practical interests. Only in the last ten years do
we find systematic efforts to apply the experimental results of
psychology to the needs of society.

It is clear that the reason for this late beginning is not an
unwillingness of the last century to make theoretical knowledge
serviceable to the demands of life. Every one knows, on the contrary,
that the glorious advance of the natural sciences became at the same
time a triumphal march of technique. Whatever was brought to light in
the laboratories of the physicists and chemists, of the physiologists
and pathologists, was quickly transformed into achievements of
physical and chemical industry, of medicine and hygiene, of
agriculture and mining and transportation. No realm of the external
social life remained untouched. The scientists, on the other hand,
felt that the far-reaching practical effect which came from their
discoveries exerted a stimulating influence on the theoretical
researches themselves. The pure search for truth and knowledge was not
lowered when the electrical waves were harnessed for wireless
telegraphy, or the Roentgen rays were forced into the service of
surgery. The knowledge of nature and the mastery of nature have always
belonged together.

The persistent hesitation of the psychologists to make similar
practical use of their experimental results has therefore come from
different causes. The students of mental life evidently had the
feeling that quiet, undisturbed research was needed for the new
science of psychology in order that a certain maturity might be
reached before a contact with the turmoil of practical life would be
advisable. The sciences themselves cannot escape injury if their
results are forced into the rush of the day before the fundamental
ideas have been cleared up, the methods of investigation really tried,
and an ample supply of facts collected. But this very justified
reluctance becomes a real danger if it grows into an instinctive fear
of coming into contact at all with practical life. To be sure, in any
single case there may be a difference of opinion as to when the right
time has come and when the inner consolidation of a new science is
sufficiently advanced for the technical service, but it ought to be
clear that it is not wise to wait until the scientists have settled
all the theoretical problems involved. True progress in every
scientific field means that the problems become multiplied and that
ever new questions keep coming to the surface. If the psychologists
were to refrain from practical application until the theoretical
results of their laboratories need no supplement, the time for applied
psychology would never come. Whoever looks without prejudice on the
development of modern psychology ought to acknowledge that the
hesitancy which was justified in the beginning would to-day be
inexcusable lack of initiative. For the sciences of the mind too, the
time has come when theory and practice must support each other. An
exceedingly large mass of facts has been gathered, the methods have
become refined and differentiated, and however much may still be under
discussion, the ground common to all is ample enough to build upon.

Another important reason for the slowness of practical progress was
probably this. When the psychologists began to work with the new
experimental methods, their most immediate concern was to get rid of
mere speculation and to take hold of actual facts. Hence they regarded
the natural sciences as their model, and, together with the
experimental method which distinguishes scientific work, the
characteristic goal of the sciences was accepted too. This scientific
goal is always the attainment of general laws; and so it happened that
in the first decades after the foundation of psychological
laboratories the general laws of the mind absorbed the entire
attention and interest of the investigators. The result of such an
attitude was, that we learned to understand the working of the typical
mind, but that all the individual variations were almost neglected.
When the various individuals differed in their mental behavior, these
differences appeared almost as disturbances which the psychologists
had to eliminate in order to find the general laws which hold for
every mind. The studies were accordingly confined to the general
averages of mental experience, while the variations from such averages
were hardly included in the scientific account. In earlier centuries,
to be sure, the interest of the psychological observers had been given
almost entirely to the rich manifoldness of human characters and
intelligences and talents. In the new period of experimental work,
this interest was taken as an indication of the unscientific fancies
of the earlier age, in which the curious and the anecdotal attracted
the view. The new science which was to seek the laws was to overcome
such popular curiosity. In this sign experimental psychology has
conquered. The fundamental laws of the ideas and of the attention, of
the memory and of the will, of the feeling and of the emotions, have
been elaborated. Yet it slowly became evident that such one-sidedness,
however necessary it may have been at the beginning, would make any
practical application impossible. In practical life we never have to
do with what is common to all human beings, even when we are to
influence large masses; we have to deal with personalities whose
mental life is characterized by particular traits of nationality, or
race, or vocation, or sex, or age, or special interests, or other
features by which they differ from the average mind which the
theoretical psychologist may construct as a type. Still more
frequently we have to act with reference to smaller groups or to
single individuals whose mental physiognomy demands careful
consideration. As long as experimental psychology remained essentially
a science of the mental laws, common to all human beings, an
adjustment to the practical demands of daily life could hardly come in
question. With such general laws we could never have mastered the
concrete situations of society, because we should have had to leave
out of view the fact that there are gifted and ungifted, intelligent
and stupid, sensitive and obtuse, quick and slow, energetic and weak

But in recent years a complete change can be traced in our science.
Experiments which refer to these individual differences themselves
have been carried on by means of the psychological laboratory, at
first reluctantly and in tentative forms, but within the last ten
years the movement has made rapid progress. To-day we have a
psychology of individual variations from the point of view of the
psychological laboratory.[1] This development of schemes to compare
the differences between the individuals by the methods of experimental
science was after all the most important advance toward the practical
application of psychology. The study of the individual differences
itself is not applied psychology, but it is the presupposition without
which applied psychology would have remained a phantom.



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 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 field.
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, 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 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 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 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



Applied psychology is evidently to be classed with the technical
sciences. It may be considered as psychotechnics, since we must
recognize any science as technical if it teaches us to apply
theoretical knowledge for the furtherance of human purposes. Like all
technical sciences, applied psychology tells us what we ought to do if
we want to reach certain ends; but we ought to realize at the
threshold where the limits of such a technical science lie, as they
are easily overlooked, with resulting confusion. We must understand
that every technical science says only: you must make use of this
means, if you wish to reach this or that particular end. But no
technical science can decide within its limits whether the end itself
is really a desirable one. The technical specialist knows how he ought
to build a bridge or how he ought to pierce a tunnel, presupposing
that the bridge or the tunnel is desired. But whether they are
desirable or not is a question which does not concern the technical
scientist, but which must be considered from economic or political or
other points, of view. Everywhere the engineer must know how to reach
an end, and must leave it to others to settle whether the end in
itself is desirable. Often the end may be a matter of course for every
reasonable being. The extreme case is presented by the applied science
of medicine, where the physician subordinates all his technique to the
end of curing the patient. Yet if we are consistent we must
acknowledge that all his medical knowledge can prescribe to him only
that he proceed in a certain way if the long life of the patient is
acknowledged as a desirable end. The application of anatomy,
physiology, and pathology may just as well be used for the opposite
end of killing a man. Whether it is wise to work toward long life, or
whether it is better to kill people, is again a problem which lies
outside the sphere of the applied sciences. Ethics or social
philosophy or religion have to solve these preliminary' questions. The
physician as such has only to deal with the means which lead toward
that goal.

We must make the same discrimination in the psychotechnical field. The
psychologist may point out the methods by which an involuntary
confession can be secured from a defendant, but whether it is
justifiable to extort involuntary confessions is a problem which does
not concern the psychologist. The lawyers or the legislators must
decide as to the right or wrong, the legality or illegality, of
forcing a man to show his bidden ideas. If such an end is desirable,
the psychotechnical student can determine the right means, and that is
the limit of his office. We ought to keep in mind that the same holds
true for the application of psychology in economic life. Economic
psychotechnics may serve certain ends of commerce and industry, but
whether these ends are the best ones is not a care with which the
psychologist has to be burdened. For instance, the end may be the
selection of the most efficient laborers for particular industries.
The psychologist may develop methods in his laboratory by which this
purpose can be fulfilled. But if some mills prefer another goal, - for
instance, to have not the most efficient but the cheapest possible
laborers, - entirely different means for the selection are necessary.
The psychologist is, therefore, not entangled in the economic
discussions of the day; it is not his concern to decide whether the
policy of the trusts or the policy of the trade-unions or any other
policy for the selection of laborers is the ideal one. He is confined
to the statement; if you wish this end, then you must proceed in this
way; but it is left to you to express your preference among the ends.
Applied psychology can, therefore, speak the language of an exact
science in its own field, independent of economic opinions and
debatable partisan interests. This is necessary limitation, but in
this limitation lies the strength of the new science. The psychologist
may show how a special commodity can be advertised; but whether from a
social point of view it is desirable to reinforce the sale of these
goods is no problem for psychotechnics. If a sociologist insists that
it would be better if not so many useless goods were bought, and that
the aim ought rather to be to protect the buyer than to help the
seller, the psychologist would not object. His interest would only be
to find the right psychological means to lead to this other social
end. He is partisan neither of the salesman nor of the customer,
neither of the capitalist nor of the laborer, he is neither Socialist
nor anti-Socialist, neither high-tariff man nor free-trader. Here,
too, of course, there are certain goals which are acknowledged on all
sides, and which therefore hardly need any discussion, just as in the
case of the physician, where the prolongation of life is practically
acknowledged as a desirable end by every one. But everywhere where the
aim is not perfectly a matter of course, the psychotechnical
specialist fulfills his task only when he is satisfied with
demonstrating that certain psychical means serve a certain end, and
that they ought to be applied as soon as that end is accepted.

The whole system of psychotechnical knowledge might be subdivided
under either of the two aspects. Either we might start from the
various mental processes and ask for what end each mental factor can
be practically useful and important, or we can begin with studying
what significant ends are acknowledged in our society and then we can
seek the various psychological facts which are needed as means for the
realization of these ends. The first way offers many conveniences.
There we should begin with the mental states of attention, memory,
feeling, and so on, and should study how the psychological knowledge
of every one of these mental states can render service in many
different practical fields. The attention, for instance, is important
in the classroom when the teacher tries to secure the attention of the
pupils, but the judge expects the same attention from the jurymen in

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Online LibraryHugo MünsterbergPsychology and Industrial Efficiency → online text (page 1 of 16)