Zoom link will be shared with our subscribed list serve.
Kira Lussier, Postdoctoral Researcher cross-appointed at the Institute for Management and Innovation at the University of Toronto Mississauga and at Rotman’s Institute for Gender and the Economy
Consulting Psychologists in the Corporate Laboratory What happens when psychologists become consultants?
How do scientific standards collide with business imperatives, and what implications does this collision have for the production of psychological knowledge? From the origins of applied psychology in the early 20th-century, firms of “consulting psychologists” have sold psychological techniques to corporate clients seeking insight into their employees’ psyches. Consulting psychologists grounded their legitimacy by combining a claim to scientific expertise, as embodied in their methods and tools, with business rationales about the economic value of psychological testing.
Drawing on a larger book manuscript on the history of psychological testing in North American business, this talk uses case studies of major consulting psychology firms to explore the complex relationship between science and business. Corporations were not just sites for funding psychology, but also served as laboratories for investigating and intervening in human nature. Corporate clients served as crucial research sites to develop and refine theories, tools, and methods—with lasting implications for psychology. I argue that consulting psychologists shaped the broader discipline of psychology in two ways. First, the psychological techniques developed and sold to corporate clients became commodities and products, not just scientific instruments. Second, corporate psychology oriented the categories and traits under study towards those that were valuable to business. The very capacities that personality tests sought to measure—the capacity to motivate workers, think creatively, and work in teams—became core components of human capital. As this talk shows, corporations shaped the contours of what counts as psychological knowledge.