By Luke Allen
Hugo Münsterberg was known as a gentleman, a professional, and a visionary. He worked in many psychological fields and gained prowess around every turn. His talents lead him to play the role of a pioneer in the fields of clinical, Industrial/ Organizational (I/O), and forensic psychology. He published books from a young age until his death in the early 1900’s. Münsterberg’s name is not known in every house hold, but his works are considered groundbreaking and detrimental to modern psychology.
Hugo Münsterberg was born in Danzig Germany, to Moritz and Anna Münsterberg. Moritz, his father, was a merchant that bought lumber in Russia and resold it in Germany. While Anna, his mother, was an artist and loved all forms of art. His mother encouraged him to play music and partake in the art, and in response Münsterberg learned to play the cello. His love of the arts remained very import in his life, even throughout his scholarly works. When Münsterberg was 12, his mother died. It made Münsterberg take a very serious standpoint on life at a very young age. He became involved in intellectual activities such as learning multiple languages including Arabic and Sanskrit. His father later died when he was 17.
Two years after his father’s death he graduated from The Gymnasium of Danzig. The following year he entered the University of Leipzig. This is where he found an interest for psychology by hearing a lecture from Wilhelm Wundt. He worked and finally became Wundt’s Research assistant. He received a PH.D. In physiological Psychology under Wundt in 1885 at the age of 22. In the year 1887, he went to Heidelberg to continue his medical studies. He got his medical degree in the year 1891 and it gave him the opportunity to lecture as at Freiburg. He mainly lectured on philosophy while he was there. In 1891, he was promoted to assistant professorship and also attended the First International Congress of Psychology at Paris, where he met a man named William James. They became close colleagues and corresponded back and forth between Freiburg to America. William James was so amazed by Münsterberg Intelligence, that in 1892, James asked Münsterberg to come to Harvard for three years, and take control of the Psychological laboratory. Münsterberg was a phenomenal teacher and administrator, which was the reason he was offered a permanent professorship. He decided to go back and Freiberg. Two years later he returned to Harvard to continue his work. He spent most of the rest of his life at Harvard, excluding the time he was an exchange professor between Harvard and the University of Berlin.
Münsterberg shook the I/O psychological community in 1913 when he published the book, Psychology and Industrial Efficiency. It spoke of many of his different theories of the time that now we take as almost common knowledge. Such as the importance of fitness in a work place. He said that employee fitness would lead to more productive employees. Today, there are many psychologists that say that personal fitness and wellbeing is phenomenally important. He also states how in the time there was a lot of trouble with accidents in the electric railways. Apparently, the main issue was the lack of qualified personnel working these railways. His view was, “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.” Hugo Münsterberg, Chapter 8 of Psychology and Industrial Efficiency. His theory rephrased and explained in his book say that the motormen were just naturally slower than was required. This chapter speaks very