The History of Psychology: Applied Psychology

When the American students returned from Germany where they had studied Wundt’s psychology, they had to transform their knowledge into an applied science. The American Zeitgeist had tremendous impact on the new scientists overseas. To make a normal living, psychologists had to apply their knowledge to form skills that could be used to consult, to measure mental ability, etc. To achieve this, some special support was necessary; especially the two World Wars of the preceding century played an important role in the raise of the new science.

The first student receiving a doctorate degree in the USA was Granville Stanley Hall (1844-1924). He was influenced by Wundt’s “Physiological Psychology” and his interest finally shifted to psychology. In his carrier, he became president of Clark University and opened the doors to women and minority groups such as Jews and African Americans. In addition, he was an important founder of the APA. Hall’s major view of human development was the Evolutionary Theory. One of his primary research programs caused a lot of publicity and lead to the so-called Child Study Movement. In 1904, Hall published a two-volume work stating his Recapitulation Theory of Psychological Development. Hall believed that the personal development of children reflects the life history of the human race in a general way.

James McKeen Cattell  (1860-1944) enhanced the field of applied psychology with the idea of measuring mental processes. He coined the term mental tests. His mental tests, however, were measuring motor skills and sensory capacities. Nevertheless, he was a significant individual leading to the psychological testing movement.

Alfred Binet (1857-1911) developed the first truly psychological test measuring mental abilities. He can be seen as the beginning milestone of modern intelligence testing. His tests mainly focused on judgmental, comprehensive, and reasoning abilities. Binet introduced the concept of mental age and Intelligence Quotient. Mental age is the average age of children to perform a task at a certain level of difficulty. The Intelligence Quotient is the quotient of mental age and physical age. Thus, an IQ of 100 denotes an average mental strength, whereas higher IQs imply that a person is mentally beyond his/her fellows of the same age.

World War I gave psychology a new face. The army needed to assess its members to select the most eligible men and to exclude people with mental difficulties. The US Army thereby provoked the idea of group testing since the tests had to be administered in a quick and easy manner. The results of the mass tests in 1917 resulted in personality tests that are more accurate and more acceptance of psychologists in public. Furthermore, the new Applied Psychology adapted the terminology of medicine and engineering to hold its own position and to emphasize on itself as an equally qualified science.

Lightner Witmer (1867-1956) was the first to begin using the term “clinical psychology”; however, he limited his devotion to treating learning and behavior problems with school children. He introduced the idea of using the new science to help people rather than to study the content of their minds. Since he was the first in this field, he developed his own methods to diagnose and treat children with literacy problems. Witmer pointed out, that physical problems and environmental factors could interfere with psychological functioning and concluded that social matters could prevent the children from showing maladaptive behaviors.

A main individual in the field or Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Advertisement was Walter Scott (1869-1955). He was the first to combine and to apply psychological findings to advertisements. He recommended, for example, involving many sensory organs at the time to attract the prospective customer. Scott was also active in the field of personnel selection and methods to assess applicants. He also emphasized the need to correctly plan the workplace of people to optimize their performance and to make the workplace more comfortable as well. The financial imbalances of the 1920s certainly gave opportunities for Scott to develop new ideas and to gain acceptance in his fields of study.

Hugo Muensterberg (1863-1916) first applied psychology to law. In topics such as crime prevention and the trustworthiness of eyewitness testimonies, he addressed a critical issue. Additionally, he conducted research in industrial fields and his findings became an essential foundation for even today’s research.

The individuals introduced in this chapter made the first but necessary step to integrating psychology to the practical sciences. Thereby, the new field of Applied Psychology gained immense public acceptance. This resulted in a feedback reaction so that psychology gradually influenced many other sciences and vice versa. Today’s Clinical Psychology, which is mainly application oriented, can be said to have benefited essentially from the functionalism’s development in the beginning of the 19th century.

From Applied Psychology to Applied Computer Science

You will find another dozen articles on the history of psychology on this site and I hope you will find them useful.
For the computer guys amongst us, I have another useful entry here: HyperV backup, and how it safeguards virtual machines, whether at work, in a data center, or for the IT professional’s office and workstation.