Toronto Talk Oct. 30th: Testing Temperament at Work

Our Toronto area readers may be interested in an upcoming talk at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. Kira Lussier (right), a graduate student at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto, will be speaking on “Testing Temperament at Work: Human Relations, Labour Relations, and Industrial Psychology in Interwar America” on Wednesday, October 30th at 4pm. The event is free to the public, but advanced registration is required. Full details follow below.

Testing Temperament at Work: Human Relations, Labour Relations, and Industrial Psychology in Interwar America

Date: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Time: 4:00PM – 6:00PM
Location: 208N, North House, Munk School of Global Affairs 1 Devonshire Place

Industrial psychologists in interwar America sought to convince corporate personnel departments that the insights of the human sciences, applied at work, would result in a more efficient, harmonious, and productive workforce. The defining methodology of these industrial psychologists was the pencil-and-paper psychological test, which they claimed could reveal a worker’s social and emotional disposition to predict behavior at work. One of the most widely-adopted tests of this kind was the Humm-Wadsworth Temperament Scale, first published in 1935; unlike other psychological instruments, this test was specifically created with industrial use in mind. Its creators—an industrial psychologist and a personnel manager — appealed to extant corporate concerns and drew on the ideology of “human relations,” to market their test as a scientific tool that would result in more harmonious labor relations. This paper argues that the legacy of this temperament testing was to forge a connection between workers’ affective disposition and the large-scale labor relations of the workplace: in selling their test to corporate clients, psychologists claimed that the psychological maladjustment of workers was one cause of labor unrest. These assumptions came under increasing attack by cultural critics like Daniel Bell, who identified personality tests as a particularly egregious management strategy to deflect attention from the broader socioeconomic structure of American capitalism. By unpacking this debate between the creators and critics of temperament testing, this paper explores the intersection of the politics of labor, the ideology of human relations and the practice of industrial psychology in interwar America.

Kira Lussier is a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto’s Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, and a Junior Fellow at the Jackman Humanities Institute. With an undergraduate degree in History from McGill University, her research interests lie at the intersection of the history of the human sciences and American social history. Her dissertation traces the history of personality testing and its critics in North American workplaces from the First World War to the Cold War. She has presented her research at the International Congress for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, and Cheiron: The International Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.