The unsung hero – Hugo Munsterberg (1863-1916)

He was considered the first US industrial psychologist because of his work on the factory line on how to select male workers, he increased productivity and knew how to use advertising effectively. He wrote extensively on teaching, education and society bringing a lot of unwanted attention especially from woman and from the legal system (Adams 2009). However he was one of the first laboratories to actively recruit woman in Germany and later in Harvard, and plus he wrote the best selling book ‘On the Witness Stand’ applying psychology to the legal system in fine tuning the court room (Hergenhahn 2009). So why is he left out from the lime light of history? Lets take a look at his story and find out.

He was educated at the University of Freiburg and then graduated to work with Wundt in Leipzig Germany, doing his PhD in Physiological Psychology before his training at medical school. Munsterberg established the second psychology laboratory in Germany (Coon and Mitterer 2011) and his theory on emotion as conscious recognition of one’s bodily state is similar to James and in fact on one occasion he was publicly praised by James on a theory on Will (Coon and Mitterer 2011).

Unfortunately this was followed by public criticism by Titchener and Wundt, after this James offered Munsterberg an option to come and join him at Harvard University to run the first laboratory. Munsterberg later went onto be the mentor of William Moulton Marston – the creator of Wonder Woman and Mary Whiton Calkins among many other (Passer et al 2009).

Through the use of a fight that broke out in a class; he developed his psychological explanation for why there are many different eye-witness accounts, he advocated the use of psychological methods in police interrogation rather than the use of brutality. And he concluded that the group jury system for concluding on a verdict was a good process when comparing to single person judgments. Unfortunately he believed that woman jurors’ should not be used due to the lack of rationality (Hergenhahn 2009).

Maybe the start of his demise with the science community started because of his love of his home country, Germany. At this time Germany was seen as the enemy and the US propaganda did not help Munsterberg. He missed Germany according to Schultz and Schultz (2008), and would write his works in Germany and not the US. The Great War resulted in him experiencing anti-Semitism both in Germany and in US, (Schultz and Schultz 2008) and so his feet were now firmly in the Functionalist camp which he declared often (Passer et al 2009). In his later life he was considered a spy Edgar J Hoover who was the founder and creator of the FBI and the media. Munsterberg considered himself to be an experimental psychologist and maybe he would have done well in the modern age of social media.wonder woman.jpg


Adams, B (2009) The psychology companion. Hampshire, England. Palgrave Macmillan

Coon, D., Mitterer,J. (2011) Psychology a journey. Australia. Wadsworth Cengage Learning

Hergenhahn, B.R. (2009) An introduction to the history of psychology (6th Edn). Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Cengage Learning

Passer, M et al (2009) Psychology: The science of mind and behaviour. New York. McGraw

Schultz, D.P., Schultz, S.E. (2008). A history of modern psychology (9th Edn). Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Cengage Learning

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