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Psychotechnology is a historical term for the application of psychological concepts to optimize “means and ends” in all areas of life and formed a sub-area of applied psychology . Psychotechnics was the first psychological discipline to deal with the operational questions of occupational suitability, job allocation (suitability and selection) and work performance (monotony and fatigue, performance and work organization) or advertising. You can today as a classic precursor Arbeitspsychologie be considered and was reflected in the economic and organizational psychology .

Psychotechnics spread rapidly in Europe, the USA and also in the Soviet Union. It was first used in war machinery during World War I and had its heyday between the two world wars.



William Stern introduced the term for the first time in 1903 in order to distinguish the application of psychology, or more precisely the "psychological influence " in all areas of life from psychognostics . Stern himself, however, relates psychotechnology primarily to educational and therapeutic effects.

Hugo Münsterberg reached in 1914 the concept of industrial psychology and initially took him as a generic term for all applied psychology: ". Each sphere of human culture has (...) problems of industrial psychology is" . However, because Münsterberg was the first to put applied psychology in the service of the economy in a programmatic and systematic manner, the initially general term psychotechnology was increasingly restricted to the economic field.

Even Walter Moede took the concept of industrial psychology in terms of psychology and business at. He finally proposed the term "industrial psychotechnology" to denote the application of psychology specifically in industrial companies . He distinguished between "industrial object psychology" (adaptation of industrial working conditions to people in terms of ergonomic design) and "industrial subject psychotechnology" (adaptation of people to industrial working conditions through the application of findings from differential psychology for aptitude diagnostics , leadership and further education).


Not only the term, but also the self-image of psychotechnology was decisively shaped by Münsterberg. And so not only the view of people and work , but also the importance of one's own discipline was dominated by very technical considerations: Psychotechnology should only be a means to an end and "completely dominated by the idea of ​​economic goals" (Münsterberg, 1912 , quoted from Frieling & Sonntag, 1999, p. 27). Questions about right, wrong or morality should not be asked of the psychotechnician, he should carry out his tasks without judgment.

Important studies

Psychotechnology tried to optimize economic / operational processes on the basis of scientific psychological research. Important results of psychotechnical studies are briefly listed below:

  • Description of the structuring and restructuring processes through practice ( Blumenfeld , 1928)
  • Human-machine interaction as a dynamic unit, proposal for the development of a learning process ( Lewin & Rupp, 1928)
  • Introduction of breaks leads to a significant increase in performance while at the same time decreasing fatigue (Efimoff & Zibakowa, 1926)
  • Mixed work results in an increase in performance compared to perforation work, which is only interrupted by breaks (Krause, 1933)
  • Less effort required for band work than for freelance work (Düker, 1929)
  • Effect of the timing of work processes (Graf, 1930)

Heyday and crisis

Psychotechnology experienced its first boom during the First World War, when “the rapid replacement and most economical use of human labor” was required (Ulich, 2005). After the end of the First World War, psychotechnology should help to give the economy a boost. In the first decade after the war, psychotechnical laboratories and test centers were set up at universities as well as other public institutions (Reichswehr, Reichspost, cities and municipalities, etc.). In contrast to Germany or the USA, in Great Britain the state was heavily involved in the institutionalization of psychotechnology and this was very centralized.

Aptitude diagnostics, personnel selection and training displaced the other areas of application of psychotechnology and led to a narrowing of the psychotechnical perspective on the adaptation of the worker to the working conditions (subject psychotechnology).

Shortly afterwards, the crisis in psychotechnology began. On the one hand, there was a lack of a common theoretical and methodological basis on which the practical solution approaches could have been based. On the other hand, the narrowing down to subject psychotechnics led to displeasure among the unions, as workers were exposed to arbitrary and arbitrary selection and exploitation.

Worst of weighing the ideological crisis of psychoanalysis technology: after the seizure of power of the Nazis remained in Germany psychologists fit their theories to the fascist ideology and use the psycho-technique, to support the Nazi regime. As a result, psychotechnology was particularly encouraged by the new regime, but scientifically it had already reached its limits in 1933 and after the end of the Second World War - at least in its previous form - was to lose importance.

Further development and present

Psychotechnology ultimately led to an overemphasis on the economic and technical aspects of the work to which the worker should be adapted (subject psychotechnology ). This and the lack of sociopolitical responsibility and self-reflection, which at least in Germany led to a merger with Nazi ideology, ultimately brought the term psychotechnology into disrepute. As early as 1927, Giese opposed the concept of psychotechnology to that of business psychology and emphasized that the adaptation of the work environment to the worker (object psychotechnology ) must be the focus of psychological work in business life.

Today psychotechnology itself is only of importance in the history of science. However, it laid the foundation for the research fields of industrial science and industrial psychology , in which the findings and theories of psychotechnology can still be found. In 1952 , Georges Friedmann took the position that without psychotechnology the frightening problems of dehumanization would not have moved to the center of scientific research.


The Adolf Würth Center for the History of Psychology at the University of Würzburg has been showing an exhibition with the title Psychotechnology - a young science finds its application from December 2017 until probably spring 2020 .


  • William Stern : Applied Psychology. L. William Stern, E. Bernheim (Ed.): Contributions to the psychology of the statement: with special consideration of problems of the administration of justice, pedagogy, psychiatry and historical research. Volume 1: Contributions to the Psychology of Statement. Barth, Leipzig 1903-1904, pp. 4-45.
  • Hugo Münsterberg : Psychology and economic life. A contribution to applied experimental psychology. Barth, Leipzig 1912.
  • Hugo Münsterberg : Basics of psychotechnology. Barth, Leipzig 1914.
  • Fritz Giese : Methods of Business Psychology. In: Emil Abderhalden (Hrsg.): Handbook of biological working methods. Department 6: Methods of Experimental Psychology. Part C 2. Urban & Schwarzenberg, Berlin et al. 1927, pp. 119-744.
  • W. Moede : Textbook of Psychotechnology. Springer, Berlin 1930.
  • Ekkehart Frieling , Karlheinz Sonntag: Textbook industrial psychology. 2nd, completely revised edition. Huber, Bern et al. 1999, ISBN 3-456-82932-9 .
  • Eberhard Ulich : Industrial Psychology. 6th, revised and expanded edition. Vdf-Hochschulverlag at the ETH Zurich et al., Zurich 2005, ISBN 3-7910-2442-6 .
  • Katja Patzel-Mattern : Human machines - machine people? The industrial design of the human-machine relationship using the example of psychotechnology and Georg Schlesinger's work with war invalids. In: Würzburger medical historical reports 24, 2005, pp. 378–390.
  • Dominik Schrage : Psychotechnology and Radiophony. Subject constructions in artificial realities 1918-1932 , Wilhelm Fink, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-7705-3624-X .
  • Ulfried Geuter: The professionalization of German psychology under National Socialism . Suhrkamp Frankfurt (Main) 1988, ISBN 978-3518283011 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Psychotechnics - a young science finds its application . ( [accessed on September 11, 2018]).