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Hugo Münsterberg (June 1 1863 - December 19 1916) was a German-American psychologist. He was one of the pioneers in applied psychology, extending his research and theories to Industrial (I/O), legal, medical, clinical, educational and business settings. Munsterberg encountered immense turmoil with the outbreak of the First World War. Torn between his loyalty to America and his homeland, he often defended Germany's actions, attracting criticism.

Family life and education

Hugo Münsterberg was born in Danzig. His father Moritz was a merchant who bought lumber from Russia and sold it to England. His mother Anna was an artist who continued working while taking care of his four sons. It was this artistic environment that influenced the development of his psychological theories.

Münsterberg’s first years of school were spent at the Gymnasium of Danzig where he graduated in 1882. He joined the University of Leipzig in 1883 where he met Wilhelm Wundt who influenced him to join the Psychology laboratory. He received a Ph. D. in psychology and in 1887 received his medical degree at Heidelberg. He also passed an examination that enabled him to lecture as a privatdocet at Freisburg. In the same year he married Selma Oppler of Strasbourg on August 7.

In 1891, he was promoted to assistant professorship and attended the First International Congress of psychology where he met William James. They kept correspondence and in 1892 William invited him to Harvard for a three year term as a chair of the psychology lab. In 1895 he returned to Freisburg due to uncertainties of settling in America. However, in 1897 he returned to Harvard in response to urgent invitation from James and Harvard’s president. In 1898 he was elected President of the American Psychological Association (APA) and in 1910 he was appointed exchange Professor from Harvard to the University of Berlin. He remained at Harvard until his sudden death in 1916 while on a lecture platform.

Contributions to psychology

Industrial Psychology

Münsterberg wrote the book Psychology and Industrial Efficiency (1913) which looked at problems with monotony, attention and fatigue, physical and social influences on the working power, the effects of advertising and the future development of economic psychology. He believed that the key to work place efficiency was matching job and worker and that successful matches generated satisfied employees, quality work and high productivity.

Clinical Psychology

Münsterberg was grounded on the theory of psychophysical parallelism which argued that all physical processes had a parallel brain process. He believed that mental illness had a psychological basis and made diagnoses based on behavioral observations, an interview and answers received by the patients whom he interviewed. These studies led him to publish the book, Psychotherapy (1909)

Applied Psychology

Hugo Münsterberg wrote several papers on the application of psychological information in legal situations. The main objective in most of these articles was eye witness testimony which examined the witness. In 1908, he published his controversial book, On the witness Stand (1908) which talked about psychological factors that can affect a trial’s outcome.

Münsterberg was an admirer of Frederick Winslow Taylor. He wrote to him in 1913: 'Our aim is to sketch the outlines of a new science, which is to intermediate between the modern laboratory psychology and the problem of economics.' Industrial psychology was to be 'independent of economic opinions and debatable . . . interests'. [1]


  • Die Willensshandlung (1888)
  • Beitrage Zur Experimentellen Psychologie (1889)
  • Psychology and Life (1899)
  • Grundzuge Der Psychologie (1900)
  • American Traits from the point of view of A German (1901)
  • Die Amerikaner (1904)
  • The principles of Art Education (1905)
  • Science and Idealism (1906)
  • On the witness Stand (1908)
  • Aus Deutsch-Amerika (1908)
  • Psychology and Crime (1908)
  • The Eternal Values (1909)
  • Psychology and the Teacher (1909)
  • Psychology and Industrial Efficiency (1913)
  • Psychology and Social Sanity (1914)
  • Grundzuge Der Psychotechnic (1914)
  • Psychology, General and Applied (1914, textbook)
  • Tomorrow (1916)
  • Photoplay (1916)



This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

  • Street, Warren R (1994). A Chronology of Noteworthy Events in American Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychology Association. ISBN 1557982519
  • Kimble, Gregory A. et al (1991). Portraits of Pioneers in Psychology. ISBN 080582619X
  • Weimer Irving B. (2003). Handbook of Psychology. ISBN 0471383201

External links

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hu:Hugo Münsterberg pt:Hugo Münsterberg

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