Psychology and Industrial Efficiency
by Hugo Muensterberg
1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse







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 identical.




































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 individuals.

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 discussions.



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 the courtroom, the artist seeks to stir up the attention of the spectator, the advertiser demands the attention of the newspaper readers. Whoever studies the characteristics of the mental process of attention may then be able to indicate how in every one of these unlike cases the attention can be stimulated and retained. Nevertheless the opposite way which starts from the tasks to be fulfilled seems more helpful and more fundamentally significant. The question, then, is what mental processes become important for the tasks of education, what for the purposes of the courtroom, what for the hospital, what for the church, what for politics, and so on.

As this whole essay is to be devoted exclusively to the economic problems, we are obliged to choose the second way; that is, to arrange applied psychology with reference to its chief ends and not with reference to the various means. But the same question comes up in the further subdivision of the material. In the field of economic psychology, too, we might ask how far the study of attention, or of perception, or of feeling, or of will, or of memory, and so on, can be useful for the purposes of the business man. Or here, too, we might begin with the consideration of the various ends and purposes. The ends of commerce are different from those of industry, those of publishing different from those of transportation, those of agriculture different from those of mining; or, in the field of commerce, the purposes of the retailer are different from those of the wholesale merchant. There can be no limit to such subdivisions; each particular industry has its own aims, and in the same industry a large variety of tasks are united. We should accordingly be led to an ample classification of special economic ends with pigeonholes for every possible kind of business and of labor. The psychologist would have to find for every one of these ends the right mental means. This would be the ideal system of economic psychology.

But we are still endlessly far from such a perfect system. Modern educational psychology and medical psychology have reached a stage at which an effort for such a complete system might be realized, but economic psychology is still at too early a stage of development. It would be entirely artificial to-day to aim at such ideal completeness. If we were to construct such a complete system of questions, we should have no answers. In the present stage nothing can be seriously proposed but the selection of a few central purposes which occur in every department of business life, and a study of the means to reach these special ends by the discussion of some typical cases which may clearly illustrate the methods involved.

From this point of view we select three chief purposes of business life, purposes which are important in commerce and industry and every economic endeavor. We ask how we can find the men whose mental qualities make them best fitted for the work which they have to do; secondly, under what psychological conditions we can secure the greatest and most satisfactory output of work from every man; and finally, how we can produce most completely the influences on human minds which are desired in the interest of business. In other words, we ask how to find the best possible man, how to produce the best possible work, and how to secure the best possible effects.





Instead of lingering over theoretical discussions, we will move straight on toward our first practical problem. The economic task, with reference to which we want to demonstrate the new psychotechnic method, is the selection of those personalities which by their mental qualities are especially fit for a particular kind of economic work. This problem is especially useful to show what the new method can do and what it cannot do. Whether the method is sufficiently developed to secure full results to-day, or whether they will come to-morrow, is unimportant. It is clear that the success of to-morrow is to be hoped for, only if understanding and interest in the problem is already alive to-day.

When we inquire into the qualities of men, we use the word here in its widest meaning. It covers, on the one side, the mental dispositions which may still be quite undeveloped and which may unfold only under the influence of special conditions in the surroundings; but, on the other side, it covers the habitual traits of the personality, the features of the individual temperament and character, of the intelligence and of the ability, of the collected knowledge and of the acquired experience. All variations of will and feeling, of perception and thought, of attention and emotion, of memory and imagination, are included here. From a purely psychological standpoint, quite incomparable contents and functions and dispositions of the personality are thus thrown together, but in practical life we are accustomed to proceed after this fashion: if a man applies for a position, he is considered with regard to the totality of his qualities, and at first nobody cares whether the particular feature is inherited or acquired, whether it is an individual chance variation or whether it is common to a larger group, perhaps to all members of a certain nationality or race. We simply start from the clear fact that the personalities which enter into the world of affairs present an unlimited manifoldness of talents and abilities and functions of the mind. From this manifoldness, it necessarily follows that some are more, some less, fit for the particular economic task. In view of the far-reaching division of labor in our modern economic life, it is impossible to avoid the question how we can select the fit personalities and reject the unfit ones.

How has modern society prepared itself to settle this social demand? In case that certain knowledge is indispensable for the work or that technical abilities must have been acquired, the vocation is surrounded by examinations. This is true of the lower as well as of the higher activities. The direct examination is everywhere supplemented by testimonials covering the previous achievements, by certificates referring to the previous education, and in frequent cases by the endeavor to gain a personal impression from the applicant. But if we take all this together, the total result remains a social machinery by which perhaps the elimination of the entirely unfit can be secured. But no one could speak of a really satisfactory adaptation of the manifold personalities to the economic vocational tasks. All those examinations and tests and certificates refer essentially to what can be learned from without, and not to the true qualities of the mind and the deeper traits. The so-called impressions, too, are determined by the most secondary and external factors. Society relies instinctively on the hope that the natural wishes and interests will push every one to the place for which his dispositions, talents, and psychophysical gifts prepare him.

In reality this confidence is entirely unfounded. A threefold difficulty exists. In the first place, young people know very little about themselves and their abilities. When the day comes on which they discover their real strong points and their weaknesses, it is often too late. They have usually been drawn into the current of a particular vocation, and have given too much energy to the preparation for a specific achievement to change the whole life-plan once more. The entire scheme of education gives to the individual little chance to find himself. A mere interest for one or another subject in school is influenced by many accidental circumstances, by the personality of the teacher or the methods of instruction, by suggestions of the surroundings and by home traditions, and accordingly even such a preference gives rather a slight final indication of the individual mental qualities. Moreover, such mere inclinations and interests cannot determine the true psychological fitness for a vocation. To choose a crude illustration, a boy may think with passion of the vocation of a sailor, and yet may be entirely unfit for it, because his mind lacks the ability to discriminate red and green. He himself may never have discovered that he is color-blind, but when he is ready to turn to the sailor's calling, the examination of his color-sensitiveness which is demanded may have shown the disturbing mental deficiency. Similar defects may exist in a boy's attention or memory, judgment or feeling, thought or imagination, suggestibility or emotion, and they may remain just as undiscovered as the defect of color-blindness, which is characteristic of four per cent of the male population. All such deficiencies may be dangerous in particular callings. But while the vocation of the ship officer is fortunately protected nowadays by such a special psychological examination, most other vocations are unguarded against the entrance of the mentally unfit individuals.

As the boys and girls grow up without recognizing their psychical weaknesses, the exceptional strength of one or another mental function too often remains unnoticed by them as well. They may find out when they are favored with a special talent for art or music or scholarship, but they hardly ever know that their attention, or their memory, or their will, or their intellectual apprehension, or their sensory perceptions, are unusually developed in a particular direction; yet such an exceptional mental disposition might be the cause of special success in certain vocations. But we may abstract from the extremes of abnormal deficiency and abnormal overdevelopment in particular functions. Between them we find the broad region of the average minds with their numberless variations, and these variations are usually quite unknown to their possessors. It is often surprising to see how the most manifest differences of psychical organization remain unnoticed by the individuals themselves. Men with a pronounced visual type of memory and men with a marked acoustical type may live together without the slightest idea that their contents of consciousness are fundamentally different from each other. Neither the children nor their parents nor their teachers burden themselves with the careful analysis of such actual mental qualities when the choice of a vocation is before them. They know that a boy who is completely unmusical must not become a musician, and that the child who cannot draw at all must not become a painter, just as on physical grounds a boy with very weak muscles is not fit to become a blacksmith. But as soon as the subtler differentiation is needed, the judgment of all concerned seems helpless and the physical characteristics remain disregarded.

A further reason for the lack of adaptation, and surely a most important one, lies in the fact that the individual usually knows only the most external conditions of the vocations from which he chooses. The most essential requisite for a truly perfect adaptation, namely, a real analysis of the vocational demands with reference to the desirable personal qualities, is so far not in existence. The young people generally see some superficial traits of the careers which seem to stand open, and, besides, perhaps they notice the great rewards of the most successful. The inner labor, the inner values, and the inner difficulties and frictions are too often unknown to those who decide for a vocation, and they are unable to correlate those essential factors of the life-calling with all that nature by inheritance, and society by surroundings and training, have planted and developed in their minds.

In addition to this ignorance as to one's own mental disposition and to the lack of understanding of the true mental requirements of the various social tasks comes finally the abundance of trivial chances which become decisive in the choice of a vocation. Vocation and marriage are the two most consequential decisions in life. In the selection of a husband or a wife, too, the decision is very frequently made dependent upon the most superficial and trivial motives. Yet the social philosopher may content himself with the belief that even in the fugitive love desire a deeper instinct of nature is expressed, which may at least serve the biological tasks of married life. In the choice of a vocation, even such a belief in a biological instinct is impossible. The choice of a vocation, determined by fugitive whims and chance fancies, by mere imitation, by a hope for quick earnings, by irresponsible recommendation, or by mere laziness, has no internal reason or excuse. Illusory ideas as to the prospects of a career, moreover, often falsify the whole vista; and if we consider all this, we can hardly be surprised that our total result is in many respects hardly better than if everything were left entirely to accident. Even on the height of a mental training to the end of adolescence, we see how the college graduates are too often led by accidental motives to the decision whether they shall become lawyers or physicians or business men, but this superficiality of choice of course appears much more strongly where the lifework is to be built upon the basis of a mere elementary or high school education.

The final result corresponds exactly to these conditions. Everywhere, in all countries and in all vocations, but especially in the economic careers, we hear the complaint that there is lack of really good men. Everywhere places are waiting for the right man, while at the same time we find everywhere an oversupply of mediocre aspirants. This, however, does not in the least imply that there really are not enough personalities who might be perfectly fit even for the highest demands of the vocations; it means only that as a matter of course the result in the filling of positions cannot be satisfactory, if the placing of the individuals is carried on without serious regard for the personal mental qualities. The complaint that there is lack of fit human material would probably never entirely disappear, as with a better adjustment of the material, the demands would steadily increase; but it could at least be predicted with high probability that this lack of really fit material would not be felt so keenly everywhere if the really decisive factor for the adjustment of personality and vocation, namely, the dispositions of the mind, were not so carelessly ignored.

Society, to be sure, has a convenient means of correction. The individual tries, and when he is doing his work too badly, he loses his job, he is pushed out from the career which be has chosen, with the great probability that he will be crushed by the wheels of social life. It is a rare occurrence for the man who is a failure in his chosen vocation, and who has been thrown out of it, to happen to come into the career in which he can make a success. Social statistics show with an appalling clearness what a burden and what a danger to the social body is growing from the masses of those who do not succeed and who by their lack of success become discouraged and embittered. The social psychologist cannot resist the conviction that every single one could have found a place in which he could have achieved something of value for the commonwealth. The laborer, who in spite of his best efforts shows himself useless and clumsy before one machine, might perhaps have done satisfactory work in the next mill where the machines demand another type of mental reaction. His psychical rhythm and his inner functions would be able to adjust themselves to the requirements of the one kind of labor and not to those of the other. Truly the whole social body has had to pay a heavy penalty for not making even the faintest effort to settle systematically the fundamental problem of vocational choice, the problem of the psychical adaptation of the individuality. An improvement would lie equally in the interest of those who seek positions and those who have positions to offer. The employers can hope that in all departments better work will be done as soon as better adapted individuals can be obtained; and, on the other hand, those who are anxious to make their working energies effective may expect that the careful selection of individual mental characters for the various tasks of the world will insure not only greater success and gain, but above all greater joy in the work, deeper satisfaction, and more harmonious unfolding of the personality.



Observations of this kind, which refer to the borderland region between psychology and social politics, are valid for all modern nations. Yet it is hardly a chance that the first efforts toward a systematic overcoming of some of these difficulties have been made with us in America. The barriers between the classes lie lower; here the choice of a vocation is less determined by tradition; and it belongs to the creed of political democracy that just as everybody can be called to the highest elective offices, so everybody ought to be fit for any vocation in any sphere of life. The wandering from calling to calling is more frequent in America than anywhere else. To be sure, this has the advantage that a failure in one vocation does not bring with it such a serious injury as in Europe, but it contributes much to the greater danger that any one may jump recklessly and without preparation into any vocational stream.

It is fresh in every one's mind how during the last decade the economic conscience of the whole American nation became aroused. Up to the end of the last century the people had lived with the secure feeling of possessing a country with inexhaustible treasures. The last few years brought the reaction, and it became increasingly clear how irresponsible the national attitude had been, how the richness of the forests and the mines and the rivers had been recklessly squandered without any thought of the future. Conservation of the national possessions suddenly became the battle-cry, and this turned the eye also to that limitless waste of human material, a waste going on everywhere in the world, but nowhere more widely than in the United States. The feeling grew that no waste of valuable possessions is so reckless as that which results from the distributing of living force by chance methods instead of examining carefully how work and workmen can fit one another. While this was the emotional background, two significant social movements originated in our midst. The two movements were entirely independent of each other, but from two different starting-points they worked in one respect toward the same goal. They are social and economic movements, neither of which at first had anything directly to do with psychological questions; but both led to a point where the psychological turn of the problem seemed unavoidable. Here begins the obligation of the psychologist, and the possibility of fulfilling this obligation will be the topic of our discussion concerning the selection of the best man.

These two American movements which we have in mind are the effort to furnish to pupils leaving the school guidance in their choice of a vocation, and the nowadays still better known movement toward scientific management in commerce and industry. The movement toward vocational guidance is externally still rather modest and confined to very narrow circles, but it is rapidly spreading and is not without significant achievements. It started in Boston. There the late Mr. Parsons once called a meeting of all the boys of his neighborhood who were to leave the elementary schools at the end of the year. He wanted to consider with them whether they had reasonable plans for their future. At the well-attended meeting it became clear that the boys knew little concerning what they had to expect in practical life, and Parsons was able to give them, especially in individual discussions, much helpful information. They knew too little of the characteristic features of the vocations to which they wanted to devote themselves, and they had given hardly any attention to the question whether they had the necessary qualifications for the special work. From this germ grew a little office which was opened in 1908, in which all Boston boys and girls at the time when they left school were to receive individual suggestions with reference to the most reasonable and best adjusted selection of a calling. There is hardly any doubt that the remarkable success of this modest beginning was dependent upon the admirable personality of the late organizer, who recognized the individual features with unusual tact and acumen. But he himself had no doubt that such a merely impressionistic method could not satisfy the demands. He saw that a threefold advance would become necessary. First, it was essential to analyze the objective relations of the many hundred kinds of accessible vocations. Their economic, hygienic, technical, and social elements ought to be examined so that every boy and girl could receive reliable information as to the demands of the vocation and as to the prospects and opportunities in it. Secondly, it would become essential to interest the schools in all these complex questions of vocational choice, so that, by observation of individual tendencies and abilities of the pupils, the teachers might furnish preparatory material for the work of the institute for vocational guidance. Thirdly,—and this is for us the most important point,—he saw that the methods had to be elaborated in such a way that the personal traits and dispositions might be discovered with much greater exactitude and with much richer detail than was possible through what a mere call on the vocational counselor could unveil.[3]

It is well known how this Boston bureau has stimulated a number of American cities to come forward with similar beginnings. The pedagogical circles have been especially aroused by the movement, municipal and philanthropic boards have at least approached this group of problems, two important conferences for vocational guidance have met in New York, and at various places the question has been discussed whether or not a vocational counselor might be attached to the schools in a position similar to that of the school physician. The chief progress has been made in the direction of collecting reliable data with reference to the economic and hygienic conditions of the various vocations, the demand and supply and the scale of wages. In short, everything connected with the externalities of the vocations has been carefully analyzed, and sufficient reliable material has been gained, at least regarding certain local conditions. In the place of individual advice, we have thus to a certain degree obtained general economic investigations from which each can gather what he needs. It seems that sometimes the danger of letting such offices degenerate into mere agencies for employment has not been avoided, but that is one of the perils of the first development. The mother institute in Boston, too, under its new direction emphasizes more the economic and hygienic side, and has set its centre of gravity in a systematic effort to propagate understanding of the problems of vocational guidance and to train professional vocational counselors in systematic courses, who are then to carry the interest over the land.[4]

The real psychological analysis with which the movement began has, therefore, been somewhat pushed aside for a while, and the officers of those institutes declare frankly that they want to return to the mental problem only after professional psychologists have sufficiently worked out the specific methods for its mastery. Most counselors seem to feel instinctively that the core of the whole matter lies in the psychological examination, but they all agree that for this they must wait until the psychological laboratories can furnish them with really reliable means and schemes. Certainly it is very important, for instance, that boys with weak lungs be kept away from such industrial vocations as have been shown by the statistics to be dangerous for the lungs, or that the onrush to vocations be stopped where the statistics allow it to be foreseen that there will soon be an oversupply of workers. But, after all, it remains much more decisive for the welfare of the community, and for the future life happiness of those who leave the school, that every one turn to those forms of work to which his psychological traits are adjusted, or at least that he be kept away from those in which his mental qualities and dispositions would make a truly successful advance improbable.

The problem accordingly has been handed over from the vocational counselors to the experimental psychologists, and it is certainly in the spirit of the modern tendency toward applied psychology that the psychological laboratories undertake the investigation and withdraw it from the dilettantic discussion of amateur psychologists or the mere impressionism of the school-teachers. Even those early beginnings indicate clearly that the goal can be reached only through exact, scientific, experimental research, and that the mere naive methods—for instance, the filling-out of questionnaires which may be quite useful in the first approach—cannot be sufficient for a real, persistent furtherance of economic life and of the masses who seek their vocations. In order to gain an analysis of the individual, Parsons made every applicant answer in writing a long series of questions which referred to his habits and his emotions, his inclinations and his expectations, his traits and his experiences. The psychologist, however, can hardly be in doubt that just the mental qualities which ought to be most important for the vocational counselor can scarcely be found out by such methods. We have emphasized before that the ordinary individual knows very little of his own mental functions: on the whole, he knows them as little as he knows the muscles which be uses when he talks or walks. Among his questions Parsons included such ones as: "Are your manners quiet, noisy, boisterous, deferential, or self-assertive? Are you thoughtful of the comfort of others? Do you smile naturally and easily, or is your face ordinarily expressionless? Are you frank, kindly, cordial, respectful, courteous in word and actions? Do you look people frankly in the eye? Are your inflections natural, courteous, modest, musical, or aggressive, conceited, pessimistic, repellent? What are your powers of attention, observation, memory, reason, imagination, inventiveness, thoughtfulness, receptiveness, quickness, analytical power, constructiveness, breadth, grasp? Can you manage people well? Do you know a fine picture when you see it? Is your will weak, yielding, vacillating, or firm, strong, stubborn? Do you like to be with people and do they like to be with you?"—and so on. It is clear that the replies to questions of this kind can be of psychological value only when the questioner knows beforehand the mind of the youth, and can accordingly judge with what degree of understanding, sincerity, and ability the circular blanks have been filled out. But as the questions are put for the very purpose of revealing the personality, the entire effort tends to move in a circle.

To break this circle, it indeed becomes necessary to emancipate one's self from the method of ordinary self-observation and to replace it by objective experiment in the psychological laboratory. Experimentation in such a laboratory stands in no contrast to the method of introspection. A contrast does exist between self-observation and observation on children or patients or primitive peoples or animals. In their case the psychologist observes his material from without. But in the case of the typical laboratory experiment, everything is ultimately based on self-observation; only we have to do with the self-observation under exact conditions which the experimenter is able to control and to vary at will. Even Parsons sometimes turned to little experimental inquiries in which he simplified some well-known methods of the laboratory in order to secure with the most elementary means a certain objective foundation for his mental analysis. For instance, he sometimes examined the memory by reading to the boys graded sentences containing from ten to fifty words and having them repeat what they remembered, or he measured with a watch the rapidity of reading and writing, or he determined the sensitiveness for the discrimination of differences by asking them to make a point with a pencil in the centres of circles of various sizes. But if such experimental schemes, even of the simplest form, are in question, it seems a matter of course that the plan ought to be prescribed by real scientists who specialize in the psychological field. The psychologist, for instance, surely cannot agree to a method which measures the memory by such a method of having spoken sentences repeated and the quality of the memory faculty naively graded according to the results. He knows too well that there are many different kinds of memory, and would always determine first which type of memory functions is to be examined if memory achievements are needed for a particular calling.

But even with a more exact method of experimenting, such a procedure would not be sufficient to solve the true problem. A second step would still be necessary: namely, the adaptation of the experimental result to the special psychological requirements of the economic activity; and this again presupposes an independent psychological analysis. Most of the previous efforts have suffered from the carelessness with which this second step was ignored, and the special mental requirements were treated as a matter of course upon which any layman could judge. In reality they need the most careful psychological analysis, and only if this is carried out with the means of scientific psychology, can a study of the abilities of the individual become serviceable to the demands of the market. Such a psychological disentangling of the requirements of the callings, in the interest of guidance, is attempted in the material which the various vocational institutes have prepared, but it seldom goes beyond commonplaces. We read there, for instance,[5] for the confectioner: "Boys in this industry must be clean, quick, and strong. The most important qualities desired are neatness and adaptability to routine"; or, for the future baker, the boy "ought to know how to conduct himself and to meet the public"; or for the future architectural designer, "he must have creative ability, artistic feeling, and power to sketch"; or for the dressmaker, she "should have good eyesight and good sense of color, and an ability to use her hands readily; she should be able to apply herself steadily and be fairly quick in her movements; neatness of person is also essential"; or for the stenographer, she must be "possessed of intelligence, good judgment, and common sense; must have good eyesight, good hearing, and a good memory; must have quick perception, and be able to concentrate her attention completely on any matter in hand." It is evident that all this is extremely far from any psychological analysis in the terms of science. All taken together, we may, therefore, say that in the movement for vocational guidance practically nothing has been done to make modern experimental psychology serviceable to the new task. But on the one side, it has shown that this work of the experimental psychologist is the next step necessary. On the other side, it has become evident that in the vocation bureaus appropriate social agencies are existing which are ready to take up the results of such work, and to apply them for the good of the American youth and of commerce and industry, as soon as the experimental psychologist has developed the significant methods.



Before we discuss some cases of such experimental investigations, we may glance at that other American movement, the well-known systematic effort toward scientific management which has often been interpreted in an expansive literature.[6] Enthusiastic followers have declared it to be the greatest advance in industry since the introduction of the mill system and of machinery. Opponents have hastily denounced it as a mistake, and have insisted that it proved a failure in the factories in which it has been introduced. A sober examination of the facts soon demonstrates that the truth lies in the middle. Those followers of Frederick W. Taylor who have made almost a religion out of his ideas have certainly often exaggerated the practical applicability of the new theories, and their actual reforms in the mills have not seldom shown that the system is still too topheavy; that is, there are too many higher employees necessary in order to keep the works running on principles of scientific management. On the other hand, the opposition which comes from certain quarters,—for instance, from some trade-unions,—may be disregarded, as it is not directed against the claim that the efficiency can be heightened, but only against some social features of the scheme, such as the resulting temporary reduction of the number of workmen. But nobody can deny that this revolutionary movement has introduced most valuable suggestions which the industrial world cannot afford to ignore, and that as soon as exaggerations are avoided and experience has created a broader foundation, the principles of the new theory will prove of lasting value. We shall have to discuss, at a later point, various special features of the system, especially the highly interesting motion study. Here we have to deal only with those tendencies of the movement and with those interests which point toward our present problem, the mental analysis of the individual employees in order to avoid misfits.

The approach to this problem, indeed, seems unavoidable for the students of scientific management, as its goal is an organization of economic work by which the waste of energy will be avoided and the greatest increase in the efficiency of the industrial enterprise will be reached. The recognition that this can never be effected by a mere excessive driving of the workingmen belongs to its very presuppositions. The illusory means of prolongation of the working-time and similar devices by which the situation of the individual deteriorates would be out of the question; on the contrary, the heightening of the individual's joy in the work and of the personal satisfaction in one's total life development belongs among the most important, indirect agencies of the new scheme. This end is reached by many characteristic changes in the division of labor; also by a new division between supervisors and workers, by transformations of the work itself and of the tools and vehicles. But as a by-product of these efforts the demand necessarily arose for means by which the fit individuals could be found for special kinds of labor. The more scientific management introduced changes, by which the individual achievement often had to become rather complicated and difficult, the more it became necessary to study the skill and the endurance and the intelligence of the individual laborers in order to entrust these new difficult tasks only to the most appropriate men in the factories and mills. The problem of individual selection accordingly forced itself on the new efficiency engineers, and they naturally recognized that the really essential traits and dispositions were the mental ones. In the most progressive books of the new movement, this need of emphasizing the selection of workers with reference to their mental equipment comes to clear expression.

Yet this is very far from a real application of scientific psychology to the problem at hand. Wherever the question of the selection of the fit men after psychological principles is mentioned in the literature of this movement, the language becomes vague, and the same men, who use the newest scientific knowledge whenever physics or mathematics or physiology or chemistry are involved, make hardly any attempts to introduce the results of science when psychology is in question. The clearest insight into the general situation may be found in the most recent books by Emerson. He says frankly: "It is psychology, not soil or climate, that enables man to raise five times as many potatoes per acre as the average in his own state";[7] or: "In selecting human assistants such superficialities as education, as physical strength, even antecedent morality, are not as important as the inner attitudes, proclivities, character, which after all determine the man or woman."[8] He also fully recognizes the necessity of securing as early as possible the psychological essentials. He says: "The type for the great newspaper is set up by linotype operators. Apprenticeship is rigorously limited. Some operators can never get beyond the 2500-em class, others with no more personal effort can set 5000 ems. Do the employers test out applicants for apprenticeship so as to be sure to secure boys who will develop into the 5000-em class? They do not: they select applicants for any near reason except the fundamental important one of innate fitness."[9] But all this points only to the existence of the problem, and in reality gives not even a hint for its solution. The theorists of scientific management seem to think that the most subtle methods are indispensable for physical measurements, but for psychological inquiry nothing but a kind of intuition is necessary. Emerson tells how, for instance, "The competent specialist who has supplemented natural gifts and good judgment by analysis and synthesis can perceive attitudes and proclivities even in the very young, much more readily in those semi-matured, and can with almost infallible certainty point out, not only what work can be undertaken with fair hope of success, but also what slight modification or addition and diminution will more than double the personal power."[10] The true psychological specialists surely ought to decline this flattering confidence. Far from the "almost infallible certainty," they can hardly expect even a moderate amount of success in such directions so long as specific methods have not been elaborated, and so long as no way has been shown to make experimental measurements by which such mere guesswork can be replaced by scientific investigation.

The only modest effort to try a step in this direction toward the psychological laboratory is recorded by Taylor,[11] who tells of Mr. S.E. Thompson's work in a bicycle ball factory, where a hundred and twenty girls were inspecting the balls. They had to place a row of small polished steel balls on the back of the left hand and while they were rolled over and over in the crease between two of the fingers placed together, they were minutely examined in a strong light and the defective balls were picked out with the aid of a magnet held in the right hand. The work required the closest attention and concentration. The girls were working ten and a half hours a day. Mr. Thompson soon recognized that the quality most needed, beside endurance and industry, was a quick power of perception accompanied by quick responsive action. He knew that the psychological laboratory has developed methods for a very exact measurement of the time needed to react on an impression with the quickest possible movement; it is called the reaction time, and is usually measured in thousandths of a second. He therefore considered it advisable to measure the reaction-time of the girls, and to eliminate from service all those who showed a relatively long time between the stimulus and reaction. This involved laying off many of the most intelligent, hardest-working, and most trustworthy girls. Yet the effect was the possibility of shortening the hours and of reducing more and more the number of workers, with the final outcome that thirty-five girls did the work formerly done by a hundred and twenty, and that the accuracy of the work at the higher speed was two thirds greater than at the former slow speed. This allowed almost a doubling of the wages of the girls in spite of their shorter working-day, and at the same time a considerable reduction in the cost of the work for the factory. This excursion of an efficiency engineer into the psychological laboratory remained, however; an entirely exceptional case. Moreover, such a reaction-time measurement did not demand any special development of new methods or any particular mental analysis, and this exception thus confirms the rule that the followers of scientific management principles have recognized the need of psychological inquiries, but have not done anything worth mentioning to apply the results of really scientific psychology. Hence the situation is the same as in the field of vocational guidance. In both cases a vague longing for psychological analysis and psychological measurement, but in both cases so far everything has remained on the level of helpless psychological dilettantism. It stands in striking contrast with the scientific seriousness with which the economic questions are taken up in the field of vocational guidance and the physical questions in the field of scientific management. It is, therefore, evidently the duty of the experimental psychologists themselves to examine the ground from the point of view of the psychological laboratory.



We now see clearly the psychotechnical problem. We have to analyze definite economic tasks with reference to the mental qualities which are necessary or desirable for them, and we have to find methods by which these mental qualities can be tested. We must, indeed, insist on it that the interests of commerce and industry can be helped only when both sides, the vocational demands and the personal function, are examined with equal scientific thoroughness. One aspect alone is unsatisfactory. It would of course be possible to confine the examination to the individual mental traits, and then theoretically to determine for which economic tasks the presence of these qualities would be useful and for which tasks their absence or their deficiency would be fatal. Common sense may be sufficient to lead us a few steps in that direction. For instance, if we find by psychological examination that an individual is color-blind for red and green sensations, we may at once conclude, without any real psychological analysis of the vocations, that he would be unfit for the railroad service or the naval service, in which red and green signals are of importance. We may also decide at once that such a boy would be useless for all artistic work in which the nuances of colors are of consequence, or as a laborer in certain departments of a dyeing establishment, and that such a color-blind girl would not do at a dressmaker's or in a millinery store. But if we come to the question whether such a color-blind individual may enter into the business of gardening, in spite of the inability to distinguish the strawberries in the bed or the red flowers among the green leaves, the first necessity, after all, would be to find out how far the particular demands of this vocation make the ability to discriminate color a prerequisite, and how far psychical substitutions such as a recognition of the forms and of differences in the light intensity, may be sufficient for the practical task. Moreover, where not merely such mental defects, but more subtly shaded variations within normal limits are involved, it would be superficial, if only the mental states were examined and not at the same time the mental requirements of the vocations themselves. The vocation should rather remain the starting-point. We must at first find out what demands on the mental system are made by it and we must grade these demands in order to recognize the more or less important ones, and, especially for the important ones, we must then seek exact standards with experimental methods.

Such an experimental investigation may proceed according to either of two different principles. One way is to take the mental process which is demanded by the industrial work as an undivided whole. In this case we have to construct experimental conditions under which this total activity can be performed in a gradual, measurable way. The psychical part of the vocational work thus becomes schematized, and is simply rendered experimentally on a reduced scale. The other way is to resolve the mental process into its components and to test every single elementary function in its isolated form. In this latter case the examination has the advantage of having at its disposal all the familiar methods of experimental psychology, while in the first case for every special vocational situation perfectly new experimental tests must be devised.

Whether the one or the other method is to be preferred must depend upon the nature of the particular commercial or industrial calling, and accordingly presupposes a careful analysis of the special economical processes. It is, indeed, easy to recognize that in certain industrial activities a series of psychical functions is in question which all lie side by side and which do not fuse into one united total process, however much they may influence one another. But for many industrial tasks just this unity is the essential condition. The testing of the mental elements would be in such cases as insufficient as if we were to test a machine with reference to its parts only and not with reference to its total united performance. Even in this latter case this unified function does not represent the total personality: it is always merely a segment of the whole mental life. We may examine with psychological methods, for instance, the fitness of an employee for a technical vocation and may test the particular complex unified combination of attention, imagination and intelligence, will and memory, which is essential for that special kind of labor. We may be able to reconstruct the conditions so completely that we would feel justified in predicting whether the individual can fulfill that technical task or not; and yet we may disregard entirely the question whether that man is honest or dishonest, whether he is pacific or quarrelsome; in short, whether his mental disposition makes him a desirable member of that industrial concern under other aspects.

We best recognize the significance of these various methods by selecting a few concrete cases as illustrations and analyzing them in detail. But a word of warning may be given beforehand so as to avoid misunderstandings. These examples do not stand here as reports of completed investigations, the results of which ought to be accepted as conclusive parts of the new psychotechnical science; they are not presented as if the results were to be recommended like a well-tested machine for practical purposes. Such really completed investigations do not as yet exist in this field. All that can be offered is modest pioneer work, and just these inquiries into the mental qualities and their relations to the industrial vocations have attracted my attention only very recently, and therefore certainly still demand long continuations of the experiments in every direction. But we may hope for satisfactory results the earlier, the more cooeperators are entering the field, and the more such researches are started in other places and in other institutions. I therefore offer these early reports at the first stage of my research merely as stimulations, so as to demonstrate the possibilities.

As an illustration of the method of examining the mental process as a whole, I propose to discuss the case of the motormen in the electric railways. As an illustration of the other type, namely, of analyzing the activity and testing the elementary functions, I shall discuss the case of the employees in the telephone service. I select these two functions, as both play a practically important role in the technique of modern economic life and as in both occupations very large numbers of individuals are engaged in the work.



The problem of securing fit motormen for the electric railways was brought to my attention from without. The accidents which occurred through the fault, or at least not without the fault, of the motormen in street railway transportation have always aroused disquietude and even indignation in the public, and the street railway companies suffered much from the many payments of indemnity imposed by the court as they amounted to thirteen per cent of the gross earnings of some companies. Last winter the American Association for Labor Legislation called a meeting of vocational specialists to discuss the problem of these accidents under various aspects. The street railways of various cities were represented, and economic, physiological, and psychological specialists took part in the general discussion. Much attention was given, of course, to the questions of fatigue and to the statistical results as to the number of accidents and their relation to the various hours of the day and to the time of labor. But there was a strong tendency to recognize as still more important than the mere fatigue, the whole mental constitution of the motormen. The ability to keep attention constant, to resist distraction by chance happenings on the street and especially the always needed ability to foresee the possible movements of the pedestrians and vehicles were acknowledged as extremely different from man to man. The companies claimed that there are motormen who practically never have an accident, because they feel beforehand even what the confused pedestrian and the unskilled chauffeur will do, while others relatively often experience accidents of all kinds because they do not foresee how matters will develop. They can hardly be blamed, as they were not careless, and yet the accidents did result from their personal qualities; they simply lacked the gift of instinctive foresight. All this turned the attention more and more to the possibilities of psychological analysis, and the Association suggested that I undertake an inquiry into this interesting problem with the means of the psychological laboratory. I felt the practical importance of the problem, considering that there are electric railway companies in this country which have up to fifty thousand accident indemnity cases a year. It therefore seemed to me decidedly worth while to undertake a laboratory investigation.

It would have been quite possible to treat the functions of the motormen according to the method which resolves the complex achievement into its various elements and tests every function independently. For instance, the stopping of the car as soon as the danger of an accident threatens is evidently effective only if the movement controlling the lever is carried out with sufficient rapidity. We should accordingly be justified in examining the quickness with which the individual reacts on optical stimuli. If a playing child suddenly runs across the track of the electric railway, a difference of a tenth of a second in the reaction-time may decide his fate. But I may say at once that I did not find characteristic differences in the rapidity of reaction of those motormen whom the company had found reliable and those who have frequent accidents. It seems that the slow individuals do not remain in the service at all. As a matter of course certain other indispensable single functions, like sharpness of vision are examined before the entrance into the service and so they cannot stand as characteristic conditions of good or bad service among the actual employees.

For this reason, in the case of the motormen I abstracted from the study of single elementary functions and turned my attention to that mental process which after some careful observations seemed to me the really central one for the problem of accidents. I found this to be a particular complicated act of attention by which the manifoldness of objects, the pedestrians, the carriages, and the automobiles, are continuously observed with reference to their rapidity and direction in the quickly changing panorama of the street. Moving figures come from the right and from the left toward and across the track, and are embedded in a stream of men and vehicles which moves parallel to the track. In the face of such manifoldness there are men whose impulses are almost inhibited and who instinctively desire to wait for the movement of the nearest objects; they would evidently be unfit for the service, as they would drive the electric car far too slowly. There are others who, even with the car at high speed, can adjust themselves for a time to the complex moving situation, but whose attention soon lapses, and while they are fixating a rather distant carriage, may overlook a pedestrian who carelessly crosses the track immediately in front of their car. In short, we have a great variety of mental types of this characteristic unified activity, which may be understood as a particular combination of attention and imagination.

My effort was to transplant this activity of the motormen into laboratory processes. And here I may include a remark on the methodology of psychological industrial experiments. One might naturally think that the experience of a special industrial undertaking would be best reproduced for the experiment by repeating the external conditions in a kind of miniature form. That would mean that we ought to test the motormen of the electric railway by experiments with small toy models of electric cars placed on the laboratory table. But this would be decidedly inappropriate. A reduced copy of an external apparatus may arouse ideas, feelings, and volitions which have little in common with the processes of actual life. The presupposition would be that the man to be tested for any industrial achievement would have to think himself into the miniature situation, and especially uneducated persons are often very unsuccessful in such efforts. This can be clearly seen from the experiences before naval courts, where it is usual to demonstrate collisions of ships by small ship models on the table in the courtroom. Experience has frequently shown that helmsmen, who have found their course a life long among real vessels in the harbor and on the sea, become entirely confused when they are to demonstrate by the models the relative positions of the ships. Even in the naval war schools where the officers play at war with small model ships, a certain inner readjustment is always necessary for them to bring the miniature ships on the large table into the tactical game. On the water, for instance, the navy officer sees the far-distant ships very much smaller than those near by, while on the naval game table all the ships look equally large. On the whole, I feel inclined to say from my experience so far that experiments with small models of the actual industrial mechanism are hardly appropriate for investigations in the field of economic psychology. The essential point for the psychological experiment is not the external similarity of the apparatus, but exclusively the inner similarity of the mental attitude. The more the external mechanism with which or on which the action is carried out becomes schematized, the more the action itself will appear in its true character.

In the method of my experiments with the motormen, accordingly, I had to satisfy only two demands. The method of examination promised to be valuable if, first, it showed good results with reliable motormen and bad results with unreliable ones; and secondly, if it vividly aroused in all the motormen the feeling that the mental function which they were going through during the experiment had the greatest possible similarity with their experience on the front platform of the electric car. These are the true tests of a desirable experimental method, while it is not necessary that the apparatus be similar to the electric car or that the external activities in the experiment be identical with their performance in the service. After several unsatisfactory efforts, in which I worked with too complicated instruments, I finally settled on the following arrangement of the experiment which seems to me to satisfy those two demands.

The street is represented by a card 9 half-inches broad and 26 half-inches long. Two heavy lines half an inch apart go lengthwise through the centre of the card, and accordingly a space of 4 half-inches remains on either side. The whole card is divided into small half-inch squares which we consider as the unit. Thus there is in any cross-section 1 unit between the two central lines and 4 units on either side. Lengthwise there are 26 units. The 26 squares which lie between the two heavy central lines are marked with the printed letters of the alphabet from A to Z. These two heavy central lines are to represent an electric railway track on a street. On either side the 4 rows of squares are filled in an irregular way with black and red figures of the three first digits. The digit 1 always represents a pedestrian who moves just one step, and that means from one unit into the next; the digit 2 a horse, which moves twice as fast, that is, which moves 2 units; and the digit 3 an automobile which moves three times as fast, that is, 3 units. Moreover, the black digits stand for men, horses, and automobiles which move parallel to the track and cannot cross the track, and are therefore to be disregarded in looking out for dangers. The red digits, on the other hand, are the dangerous ones. They move from either side toward the track. The idea is that the man to be experimented on is to find as quickly as possible those points on the track which are threatened by the red figures, that is, those letters in the 26 track units at which the red figures would land, if they make the steps which their number indicates. A red digit 3 which is 4 steps from the track is to be disregarded, because it would not reach the track. A red digit 3 which is only 1 or 2 steps from the track is also to be disregarded, because it would cross beyond the track, if it took 3 steps. But a red 3 which is 3 units from the track, a red 2 which is 2 units from the track, and a red 1 which is 1 unit from the track would land on the track itself; and the aim is quickly to find these points. The task is difficult, as the many black figures divert the attention, and as the red figures too near or too far are easily confused with those which are just at the dangerous distance.

As soon as this principle for the experiment was recognized as satisfactory, it was necessary to find a technical device by which a movement over this artificial track could be produced in such a way that the rapidity could be controlled by the subject of the experiment and at the same time measured. Again we had to try various forms of apparatus. Finally we found the following form most satisfactory. Twelve such cards, each provided with a handle, lie one above another under a glass plate through which the upper card can be seen. If this highest card is withdrawn; the second is exposed, and from below springs press the remaining cards against the glass plate. The glass plate with the 12 cards below lies in a black wooden box and is completely covered by a belt 8 inches broad, made of heavy black velvet. This velvet belt moves over two cylinders at the front and the rear ends of the apparatus. In the centre of the belt is a window 4-1/2 inches wide and 2-1/2 inches high. If the front cylinder is turned by a metal crank, the velvet belt passes over the glass plate and the little window opening moves over the card with its track and figures. The whole breadth of the card, with its central track and its 4 units on either side, is visible through it over an area of 5 units in the length direction. If the man to be experimented on turns the crank with his right hand, the window slips over the whole length of the card, one part of the card after another becomes visible, and then he simply has to call the letters of those units in the track at which the red figures on either side would land, if they took the number of steps indicated by the digit. At the moment the window has reached Z on the card, the experimenter withdraws that card and the next becomes visible, as a second window in the belt appears at the lower end when the first disappears at the upper end. In this way the subject can turn his crank uninterruptedly until he has gone through the 12 cards. The experimenter notes down the numbers of the cards and the letters which the subject calls. Besides this, the number of seconds required for the whole experiment, from the beginning of the first card to the end of the twelfth, is measured with a stopwatch. This time is, of course, dependent upon the rapidity with which the crank is turned. The result of the experiment is accordingly expressed by three figures, the number of seconds, the number of omissions, that is, of places at which red figures would land on the track which were not noticed by the subject; and, thirdly, the number of incorrect places where letters were called in spite of the fact, that no danger existed. In using the results, we may disregard this third figure and give our attention to the speed and the number of omissions.

1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse