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can find somewhere a fit place for every able workingman if they take
enough trouble to seek for it, after all the essential element of the
reports remains, that successful achievement depends upon personal
mental traits which cannot be acquired by mere good will and training.
In view of this fact it is much more important that by far the
majority of establishments have not such a great manifoldness of
activities under one roof. The workingman who is a failure in the work
which he undertook would usually have no opportunity to show his
strong sides in the same factory, or at least to be protected against
the consequences of his weak points. If his achievement is deficient
in quality or quantity, he generally loses his place and makes a new
trial in another factory under the same accidental conditions, without
any deeper insight into his particular psychical traits and their
relation to special industrial activities. But even in the large
concerns, in which many kinds of labor are needed side by side, it is
not the rule but a rare exception when the individual is
systematically shifted to the psychologically correct place. A whole
combination of conditions is necessary for that. If his mental
unfitness makes him unsuccessful in one place, the position for which
he is fit must happen to be vacant. Moreover, he himself must like
that other kind of work, and above all the foreman must recognize his
particular fitness. In a few model factories in which the apprentice
system is developed in the spirit of advanced sociological ideas, for
instance, in the Lynn factory of the General Electric Company, such
systematic efforts are being carried on and show fair results. But the
regulation plan seems to be a haphazard lack of plan, and even the
best endeavors probably fall short of what may be attained by the
introduction of scientific psychological methods. So far in most
factories the laborer who is not doing well simply loses his position,
and by such an unfortunate experience he is not mentally enriched but
impoverished, as he has lost much of his self-confidence and of his
joy in labor.

If this limitless waste of human material, this pitiable crushing of
joy in the day's work, and this crippling of the economic output is at
last to be reduced, indeed nothing is more needed than a careful
scrutiny of the various psychophysical functions involved in the work.
A mere classification of the industrial occupations according to the
classes of manufactured objects would be of no value for this need, as
often a small industrial concern may embrace occupations which, are
based on many different psychophysical functions. A harvester consists
of two hundred and fifty different parts, and almost every one of
these parts demands a long series of manufacturing, processes.
Thousands of different kinds of labor are thus combined in one factory
and each process demands for the best work particular psychophysical
traits, even though many of them can be carried out by quite unskilled
laborers. In a large manufacturing establishment the manager assured
me only recently that more than half a million different acts have to
be performed in order to complete the goods of that factory. On the
other hand, it evidently is proper to form larger groups in which
processes are brought together which are similar with reference to the
mental activity needed, while they may be dissimilar from the
standpoint of industrial technique.

This analysis of the special processes can be furthered best by the
coöperation of the experienced men of industry. Many of the replies
which I received contained quite elaborated contributions to such a
study of various industrial processes from a psychological point of
view. They sometimes covered the ground from the simplest activity to
the subtlest and most difficult economic tasks, and this, not only
with reference to the functions of the laborer, but also even with
reference to the function of the industrial manager. The outsider can
see these psychological requirements of the particular occupation only
in crude outlines. The subtler nuances of differences between tasks
can be gained only by an intimate knowledge of the industry. Again I
may give an illustration. In the case of a well-known typesetting
machine, thousand of which are in daily use, I had the impression that
the rapidity of the performance was dependent upon the quickness of
the finger reaction. The managers, on the other hand, have found that
the most essential condition for speed in the whole work is the
ability to retain a large number of words in memory before they are
set. The man who presses the keys rather slowly advances more rapidly
than another who moves his fingers quickly, but must make many pauses
in order to find his place in the manuscript and to provide himself
with new words.

The factors which are to be brought into correlation are, accordingly,
first, the actual experiences of the managers, secondly, the
observations of skilled psychologists in the industrial concerns,
thirdly, psychological and experimental investigations with successful
and unsuccessful laborers, and, fourthly, experimental studies of the
normal variability. If such a programme is to be realized in detail,
it will be necessary to discriminate carefully, between those mental
traits of the personality which must be accredited to a lasting
inherited disposition and such as have been developed under the
influences of the surroundings, by education and training, by bad or
good stimuli from the community. While those acquired traits may have
become relatively lasting dispositions, their transformation is, after
all, possible, and the limits in which changes may be expected will
have to be found out by exact studies. Individual psychological
rhythm, attention and emotion, memory and will energy, disposition to
fatigue and to restoration, imagination, suggestibility and
initiative, and many other features will have to be examined in their
relation to the special economic aims.

Too much emphasis cannot be laid on another function as well, the
experimental testing of which has only recently been started. I refer
to the difference in the individual ability of men to profit from
training. If we test an individual at a certain point in his life with
regard to a variable ability, our result must be dependent upon three
factors, the original disposition for the performance, the original
disposition for the advance by training, and the training itself
actually passed through up to that moment. A small amount of
antecedent training for the particular task together with a high
ability to profit from repetition may be a better reason for the
appointment of a man than a long training with small ability to profit
from schooling, in spite of the fact that his actual achievement at
this time may be in the first case smaller than in the second. He will
do less at first, but he promises to outrank the other man after a
period of further training. Special experiments must be carried on and
have been actually started to determine this plasticity of the
psychophysical apparatus as an independent inborn trait of the

This invasion of psychology into the field of economic activities is
still so little advanced that the thought of a real distribution of
the wage-earners among the various commercial and industrial positions
on the basis of psychological tests would lead far beyond the present
possibilities. Moreover, many factors would interfere with its being
carried out consistently, even if a much higher stage of experimental
research were reached. The thousands of social and local reasons which
influence the choice of a vocation to-day would to a certain degree
remain in force also in a period of better psychological analysis.
Moreover, the personal inclinations and interests naturally would and
ought to remain the mainspring of economic action. This inclination,
which gives so much of the joy in labor, is by no means necessarily
coincident with those psychophysical dispositions which insure the
most successful work. Political economists have found this out
repeatedly from their statistical inquiries. Very careful studies of
the textile industry in Germany carried out in recent years[17]
yielded the result that the intelligent, highly trained textile
laborer often dislikes his work the more, the more he shows ability
for it, this ability being measured by the wages the individuals earn
at piecework. The wage and the emotional attitude were not seldom
inversely related. Those who were able to produce by far more than
others and accordingly earned the most were sometimes the very ones
who hated the work, while the less skillful workers earned less but
enjoyed the work more. The consulting economic psychologist will,
therefore at first reasonably confine himself to warning the misfits
at an early time. Even within these limits his service can be useful
to both parties, the employers and the employees. He will only slowly
reach the stage at which this negative warning may be supplemented by
positive suggestions, as to the commercial industrial activities for
which the psychophysical dispositions promise particular success.

A real assumption of responsibility for success of course cannot be
risked by the psychologist, inasmuch as the man who may be fitted for
a task by his mental working dispositions may nevertheless destroy his
chances for success by secondary personal traits. He may be dishonest,
or dissipated, or a drinker, or a fighter, or physically ill. Finally,
we ought not to forget that all such efforts to adjust to one another
the psychological traits and the requirements of the work can never
have reference to the extreme variations of human traits. The
exceptionally talented man knows anyhow where he belongs, and the
exceptionally untalented one will be excluded anyhow. The
psychological aid in the selection of the fit refers only to the
remaining four fifths of mankind for whom the chances of success can
indeed be increased as soon as the psychological personal equation is
systematically and with scientific exactitude brought into the
calculation of the life development. How far a part of this effort
will have to be undertaken by the school is a social problem which
must be considered from various points of view. Its discussion would
lead us beyond the limits of our present inquiry, but it seems
probable that the real psychological laboratory experiment in the
service of vocational guidance does not belong in the schoolroom
itself, but ought to be left to special municipal institutions.



One point here must not be overlooked. The effort to discover the
personal structure of the individual in the interest of his vocational
chance does not always necessarily involve a direct analysis of his
individuality, as material of some value can be gained indirectly.
Such indirect knowledge of a man's mental traits may be secured first
of all through referring the man to the groups to which he belongs and
inquiring into the characteristic traits of those groups. The
psychology of human variations gives not only an account of the
differences from person to person, but studies no less the psychical
inequalities of the races, of the nations, of the ages, of the
professions, and so on. If an economic activity demands a combination
of mental traits, we may take it for granted that an individual will
be fit for the work as soon as we find out that he belongs to a group
in which these required mental traits habitually occur. Such a
judgment based on group psychology can of course be no more than a
mere approach to a solution of the problem, as the psychical qualities
may vary strongly in the midst of the group. The special individual
may happen to stand at the extreme limit of the group, and the traits
which are usually characteristic of it may be very little developed or
entirely lacking in his special case. We may know that the inhabitants
of a special country are rather alert, and yet the particular
individual with whom we have to deal may be clumsy and phlegmatic. The
interests of economy will, therefore, be served by such considerations
of group psychology only if the employment, not of a single person,
but of a large number, is in question, as it is most probable that the
average character will show itself in a sufficient degree as soon as
many members of the group are involved.

Even in this case the presupposition ought to be that the average
characteristics found out with scientific exactitude by statistical
and experimental methods, and not that they are simply deduced from
superficial impressions. I have found that just this race
psychological diagnosis is frequently made in factories with great
superficiality. Some of the American industrial centres offer
extremely favorable conditions for the comparative study of
nationality. I have visited many manufacturing establishments in which
almost all workers are immigrants from foreign countries and in which
up to twenty different nationalities are represented. The employment
officers there easily develop some psychological theories on the
basis of which they are convinced that they are selecting the men with
especial skill, knowing for each in which department he will be most
successful. They consider it settled that for a particular kind of
activity the Italians are the best, and for another, the Irish, and
for a third, the Hungarians, and for a fourth, the Russian Jews. But
as soon as these factory secrets have been revealed, you may be
surprised to find that in the next factory a decidedly different
classification of the wage-earners is in force. In a gigantic
manufacturing concern, I received the definite information that the
Swedish laborers are preferable wherever a steady eye is needed, and
in another large factory on the same street I was assured that just
the Swedes are unfit for such work. Sometimes this diversity of
opinion is the result of different points of view. In one factory in
which a certain industrial operation is rather dangerous, they told me
that they took no southern Europeans, especially no Italians and
Greeks, because they are too hasty and careless in their movements,
while they gladly filled the places with Irishmen. In a quite similar
factory, on the other hand, they had a prejudice against the Irishmen
alone for this work, because the Irish laborers are too willing to run
a risk and to expose themselves to danger. Probably both
psychological observations are on the whole correct, but in the first
factory only the one and in the second factory only the other was
recognized. Much more thorough statistical inquiries than those which
as yet exist, especially as to the actual differences of wages and
piecework for wage-earners of various nationalities, would have to
furnish a basis for such race psychological statements, until the time
arrives when the psychological experiment comes to its own.

In a similar way so far we have to rely on general theories of group
psychology when the psychological differences of the sexes are to be
reckoned with in economic interests. So long as laboratory methods for
individual tests are not usual, the mental analysis of the general
groups of men and women must form the background for industrial
decisions. To be sure, it is not difficult to emphasize certain mental
traits as characteristic of women in general in contrast to men in
general, and to relate them to certain fundamental tendencies of their
psychophysical organism. As soon as this is done, it is easy
theoretically to deduce that certain industrial functions are
excellently adapted to the minds of women and that certain others
stand in striking antagonism to them. If the employment of large
numbers is in question, and average values alone are involved, such a
decision on the basis of group psychology may be adequate. In most
factories this vague sex psychology, to be sure, usually with a strong
admixture of wage questions, suggests for which machines men and for
which women ought to be employed. But here again it is not at all
improbable that in the case of a particular woman the traditional
group value may be entirely misleading and the personality accordingly
unfit for the place. Only the subtle psychological individual analysis
can overcome the superficial prejudices of group psychology. The
situation lies differently when problems of economic policy are before
us. Such general policies as, for instance, colonial politics, or
immigration politics, or politics concerned with city and rural
communities, or with coast and mountain population, will always have
to be based on group psychology as far as the economic problems are
involved, inasmuch as they refer to the average and not to the
individual, differences.

Finally, another indirect scheme to determine the personal qualities
needed for economic efficiency may be suggested by the psychology of
the typical correlations of human traits. We have seen that group
psychology proclaims that a certain individual probably has certain
traits because he belongs to this or that nation or to this or that
otherwise well-known group. Correlation psychology proclaims that a
particular individual possesses or does not possess certain traits
because he shows or does not show some other definite qualities. A
correlation, for instance, which the commercial world often
presupposes, may exist between individual traits and the handwriting.
Graphologists are convinced that a certain loop or flourish, or the
steepness or the length of the letters, or the position of the _i_
dot, is a definite indication that the writer possesses certain
qualities of personality; and if just these qualities are essential
requirements for the position, the impression of the handwriting in a
letter may be taken as a sufficient basis for appointment. The
scientist has reason to look upon this particular case of
graphological correlation with distrust. Yet even he may acknowledge
that certain correlations exist between the neatness, carefulness,
uniformity energy, and similar features of the letter, and the general
carefulness, steadiness, neatness, and energy of the personality.

However, the laboratory psychologists nowadays have gone far beyond
such superficial claims for correlations of symptoms. With
experimental and statistical methods they have gathered ample material
which demonstrates the exact degree of probability with which we have
a right to expect that certain qualities will occur together.
Theoretically we may take it for granted that those traits which are
always present together or absent together ultimately have a common
mental root. Yet practically they appear as two independent traits,
and therefore it remains important to know that, if we can find one of
them, we may be sure that the other will exist there too. Inasmuch as
the one of the two traits may be easily detected, while the other may
be hidden and can be found out only by long careful tests, it would be
valuable, indeed, for the employment manager to become acquainted with
such correlations as the psychologist may discover: as soon as he
becomes aware of the superficially noticeable symptom, he can foresee
that the other disposition is most probably present. To give an
illustration: in the interest of such measurements of correlations we
have studied in the Harvard laboratory the various characteristics of
attention and their mutual dependence.[18] We found that typical
connections exist between apparently independent features of
attention. Persons who have a rather expansive span of attention for
acoustical impressions have also a wide span for the visual objects.
Persons whose attention is vivid and quick have on the whole the
expansive type of attention, while those who attend slowly have a
narrow field of attention, and so on. Hence the manifestation of one
feature of attention allows us to presuppose without further tests
that certain other features may be expected in the particular

The problem of attention, indeed, seems to stand quite in the centre
of the field of industrial efficiency. This conviction has grown upon
me in my observation of industrial life. The peculiar kind of
attention decides more than any mental trait for which economic
activity the individual is adapted. The essential point is that such
differences of attention cannot be characterized as good or bad; it is
not a question of the attentive and of the inattentive mind. One type
is not better than another, but is simply different. Two workingmen,
not only equally industrious and capable, but also equally attentive,
may yet occupy two positions in which they are both complete failures
because their attention does not fit the places, and both may become
highly efficient as soon as they exchange positions. Their particular
types of attention have now found the right places. The one may be
disposed to a strong concentration by which everything is inhibited
which lies on the mental periphery, the other may have the talent for
distributing his attention over a large field, while he is unable to
hold it for a long while at one point. If the one industrial activity
demands the attentive observation of one little lever or one wheel at
one point, while the other demands that half a dozen large machines be
simultaneously supervised, all that is necessary is to find the man
with the right type of attention for each place. It would be utterly
arbitrary to claim that the expansive type of attention is
economically more or less valuable than the concentrated type. Both in
English and in German we have a long popular series of pamphlets with
descriptions of the requirements and conditions for the various
occupations to which a boy or a girl may turn, but I have nowhere
found any reference to the most essential mental functions such as the
particular kind of attention or memory or will. These pamphlets are
always cut after the same pattern. Where the detail refers at all to
the mental side, it points only to particular knowledge which may be
learned in school or trade or work, or to abilities which may be
developed by training. But the individual differences which are set by
the particular conditions and dispositions of the mind are neglected
with surprising uniformity in the vocational literature of all
countries. The time seems ripe for at last filling this blank in the
consciousness of the nation and in the institutions of the land.





We have placed our psychotechnical interest at the service of economic
tasks. We therefore had to start from the various economic purposes
and had to look backward, asking what ways might lead to these goals.
All our studies so far were in this sense subordinated to the one task
which ought to be the primary one in the economic world, and yet which
has been most ignored. The purpose before us was to find for every
economic occupation the best-fitted personality, both in the interest
of economic success and in the interest of personal development.
Individual traits under this point of view become for us the decisive
psychological factors, and experimental psychology had to show us a
method to determine those personal differences and their relation to
the demands for industrial efficiency. This first goal may be reached
with all the means of science, as we hope it will be in the future, or
everything may be left to unscientific, haphazard methods as in the
past: in any case a second task stands before the community, namely,
the securing of the best possible work from every man in his place.
Indeed, the nation cannot delay the solution of this second problem
until the first has been solved in a satisfactory way. We might even
say that the answer to the second question is the more important, the
less satisfactory the answer to the first is. If every place in the
economic world were filled only by those who are perfectly adapted by
their mental traits, it would be much less difficult to get efficient
work from everyone. The fact that so many misfits are at work makes it
such an urgent necessity to find ways and means by which the
efficiency can be heightened.

It must be acknowledged, however, that the problem of the best work is
not quite such a clear one as that of the best man. From various
standpoints a different answer may be given to the question which kind
of work is the best. A capitalistic, profit-seeking egotism may
consider the quickest performance, or, if differences of quality are

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Online LibraryHugo MünsterbergPsychology and Industrial Efficiency → online text (page 7 of 16)