Social Psychology’s Influence on Business Organizations

Most – if not all – psychology students, will at some point throughout their education, begin to question what employment opportunities await them as they graduate. Many students find work within counseling and therapy, while others gravitate towards research-based institutions. However, other graduates find themselves working within corporate environments in the role of Industrial Organizational (I/O) psychologists.  I/O psychology is generally referred to as a branch of psychology that utilizes psychological principles within the work world (Muchinsky & Culbertson, 2015, p. 3). These individuals play a distinct role in shaping the structure of the world’s largest corporations. So why am I writing about business within the domain of applied social psychology?

When examined closely, both of these disciplines appear to contain many shared elements. In fact, many of the concepts that I/O psychology is built upon, relate back to theories of social psychology. To begin with, organizations, groups, or even teams, require leadership. This concept, as defined as an individual’s ability to influence a group towards a particular objective or goal, can be viewed in several dimensions (Schneider et al., 2012, p. 218). According to Schneider et al. (2012, p. 218), leadership is a social variable. One cannot describe this concept without mentioning the relationship between members of a group. The corporate environment that I/O psychologists work within represents the social dynamic of psychology. Behaviors, motivations, and culture all stem from applied social psychology theories.

I/O psychology is a non-unique branch of psychology, in that it mimics the emphasis of other psychological divisions by enacting change within social environments. Additionally, a considerable amount of time is spent researching how and why specific social situations come to be. This divide is an excellent example of both, need and process theories. Need theories are primarily concerned with examining variables that motivate individuals, while process theories investigate how certain phenomenon occur (Schneider et al., 2012, p. 219). I/O psychologists – along with social psychologists – work tirelessly to uncover and further explain the distinct motivations and behaviors of individuals. Perhaps the most dramatic difference between both disciplines is that I/O psychologists are often confined to a business-like environment. Applied social psychologists are free to explore existing and new phenomenon in a variety of environments.

It is interesting to study the social dynamic of I/O psychology procedures. For example, Schneider et al. explore the determinants of job satisfaction. In addressing job satisfaction, it is first important to have a firm understanding of the sub components of this variable. Schneider et al. (2012, p. 226) first point out the importance of job characteristics, social/organizational factors and personal dispositions. These initial variables showcase the relationship between the industrial organizational and social psychology disciplines. There is a noticeable technical aspect that relates to the responsibilities of the job. However, one must also consider the social aspects of these categories.

Schneider et al. (2012, p. 226) introduce skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy and job feedback as components of job characteristics. These components require that psychologists first understand the responsibilities necessary to complete a job. This is best seen within the concept of skill variety. I/O psychologists would first need to compile the knowledge, skills and abilities involved with assigned tasks (Muchinsky & Culbertson, 2015). This component of job satisfaction best represents the presence of I/O psychology principles. However, as one explores job task identity, social psychology principles emerge. This component instead, focuses on one’s ability to participate in a project or position from start to finish (Schneider et al., 2012, p. 226). Task identity provides an excellent example of social psychology principles at work. While I/O theories provide psychologists with a guide for exploring the technical aspects of organizational work, social psychology pushes psychologists to remain concerned with the social implications of change. These components of organizational intervention are just a few of many variables that psychologists must interact with. Perhaps most importantly, psychologists – of all disciplines – must be comfortable interacting with varying theoretical frameworks of the science. By maintaining a well-rounded arsenal of tools, theories and strategies, psychologists can improve their ability to create impactful interventions.


Muchinsky, P., Culbertson, S. (2015). Psychology Applied to Work. Summerfield, NC; Hypergraphic Press, Inc.

Schneider, F., Gruman, J., & Coutts, L. (2012) Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

1 comment

  1. Greetings,

    I found your article highly informative. I have had the pleasure of taking one I/O class and am currently taking PSYCH 484 – Work Attitudes and Motivation along with the I/O section for the PSYCH 490 Capstone. I find I/O psychology interesting and in reflecting back on my career experience as a manager at AT&T, I can see how large of an impact I/O psychology had on shaping our management training programs. For example, using S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time Related) goals with team members to help create customized goals that are obtainable. As a leader, if I made a goal for someone with a high degree of difficulty, I would impact their self-efficacy or their believe they could accomplish the goal resulting in decreased motivation (Penn State, n.d.). From my 200 level PSYCH classes I could clearly see how I/O psychology and Social Psychology share many common themes. Moreover, I believe Applied Social Psychology plays a large role in developing interventions within the work space since the it is a different social environment bound by its own set of rules.

    Penn State University World Campus. (2017). PSYCH484. Lesson 7: Self-Efficacy Theory: Do I think that I can succeed in my work? Retrieved October 3, 2017 from

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar