Course taster

The history of business psychology

Various approaches and theories contributed to the field of work and organisational psychology and its identity. Early contributions (including the scientific management approach) stressed efficient performance according to economic principles. Classical organisation theory was concerned with the effective organisation of people. Following this came the human relations movement, which focused on human needs, attitudes, motives and relationships.

In contrast to an emphasis primarily on the structure or the human side of organisations, organisational thought has emphasised integrating these two perspectives in the past few decades. In addition, more recent developments in the field of organisation development (including the systems approach and contingency theory) also contributed to the field of work and organisational psychology. Lastly, the developments in positive psychology and positive organisational scholarship also impacted work and organisational psychology (Carpintero, 2017).

Because of its applied nature, the development of business psychology as a discipline has been strongly influenced by the political, economic and technological landscape.

A brief introduction to some of the key names in business psychology can be found in the interactive timeline.

Further reading

If you would like to find out more about the history of business psychology, you may like to explore the following article:

Activity 1.1: Explaining organisational psychology

Reflecting on the material of this unit, this activity will help you define organisational psychology and discuss historical eras which have affected business psychology and various phases in the history of business psychology.

Search the literature and find four to five articles presenting definitions for organisational psychology. For instance, identify articles on classical, Hawthorne and human relations theories.

Consider the definitions discussed in the unit and those in the articles and compare the above theories to current approaches. How have definitions and practices developed over time?

Share the articles which you identified, along with your reflections, on the Discussion Board (up to 150 words) (The link to the Discussion Board is not available in this course taster).