During World War I (WWI), the armies had a serious problem: they did not have a system for classifying their recruits by assessing their intelligence and capabilities, and they therefore could not assign the best fitting tasks for them. Although there were some tests that aimed to measure personality characteristics, none could meet the demands of the crowded armies (Schultz & Schultz, 2012). For this reason, psychologists in Europe and the United States began to work on new methods that would be useful in the recruitment processes. In Germany, “psycho technicians” of the time were developing aptitude tests that helped assign people to several different tasks (e.g., operating the radio, being a pilot, driving a truck…), while in England selection techniques for the military personnel were being developed (Shephard, 2015). On the other side of the Atlantic, Robert Mearns Yerkes (1876–1956) offered his services to the US Army and expanded the usefulness and representative power of currently existing tests by developing the Army Alpha and Beta Tests, and Walter Dill Scott (1869 – 1955) utilized industrial job recruitment methods to assess the qualifications of millions of soldiers (Schultz & Schultz, 2012).
These developments not only marked the beginning of a new era in psychology, but also raised the credibility of the discipline as a whole. In America, psychology’s newfound popularity helped portray it as an accessible discipline to everyone, while in Europe it was clear that psychology was decidedly different from philosophy, because it had demonstrated how useful it, in fact, could be (Shephard, 2015). Throughout the world, institutes for industrial and applied psychology were being founded and many companies even set up their own psychology laboratories (Schultz & Schultz, 2012). These new advancements meant that job opportunities were on the rise for aspiring psychologists as their help was needed in a variety of areas; technological and advertising industries, businesses, schools… Thus, industrial and organizational psychology was formally beginning, and the other areas, whether they be applied or not, were given the chance to grow as well (Landy, 1997).
When World War Two (WWII) began, it once again reaffirmed the usefulness of the methods that psychologists had put forward. WWII also forced the techniques to be revisioned and refined, since the growth of new technology required the selection of even more skilled personnel (Schultz & Schultz, 2012). Furthermore, as WWII reasserted the necessity and beneficial nature of applied psychology, more and more funding was coming through, which later spurred the installment of many different fields alongside the industrial and organizational; such as clinical and educational psychology. This also required formal training standards, the implementation of which changed the practice of psychology entirely and further increased its reputation as a respectable area of study (Kaplan & Sacuzzo, 2013). In addition, many psychologists did not stay in their enclave but spread across the labor market and brought with them the newest methods of personnel selection and engineering psychology (Fitts, 1946; Schultz & Schultz, 2012).
It must also be noted that the effects of the war was not limited to the practical matters, but also urged psychologists to think about human nature itself. After witnessing the horrifying nature of war, Sigmund Freud claimed, for instance, that anger and the will to destruct were some of the main motivators of human behavior (Schultz & Schultz, 2012). Furthermore, there were large numbers of soldiers who had been traumatized by the war, and the efforts for their treatment and rehabilitation also widened the horizons of applied psychology: it was no longer limited to the frightening asylums, but to everybody (Lloyd, 2015).
In conclusion, we can say that WWI and WWII helped the development of different fields of applied psychology by introducing the practice to the world and improving its credibility; after which society was in need of many different applications: from organizing the most efficient business environments to organizing the healthiest minds.
Fitts, P. (1946). German applied psychology during World War II. American Psychologist, 1(5), 151-161. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0059674
Kaplan, R., & Saccuzzo, D. (2013). Psychological testing. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Landy, F. (1997). Early influences on the development of industrial and organizational psychology. Journal Of Applied Psychology, 82(4), 467-477. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.82.4.467
Lloyd, A. (2015). Mental Health for the Everyman: World War II’s Impact on American Psychology (Undergraduate). University of Washington Tacoma.
Schultz, D., & Schultz, S. (2012). A history of modern psychology (10th ed., pp. 29-46). Australia: Thomson/Wadsworth.
Shephard, B. (2015). Psychology and the Great War, 1914–1918 | The Psychologist. Thepsychologist.bps.org.uk. Retrieved 24 December 2017, from https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-28/november-2015/psychology-and-great-war-1914-1918
Written for my “History of Psychology” class in 26.12.2017.