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Screening the Psychological Laboratory: Hugo Münsterberg, Psychotechnics, and the Cinema, 1892–1916

  • Jeremy Blatter (a1)

According to Hugo Münsterberg, the direct application of experimental psychology to the practical problems of education, law, industry, and art belonged by definition to the domain of psychotechnics. Whether in the form of pedagogical prescription, interrogation technique, hiring practice, or aesthetic principle, the psychotechnical method implied bringing the psychological laboratory to bear on everyday life. There were, however, significant pitfalls to leaving behind the putative purity of the early psychological laboratory in pursuit of technological utility. In the Vocation Bureau, for example, psychological instruments were often deemed too intimidating for a public unfamiliar with the inner workings of experimental science. Similarly, when psychotechnical means were employed by big business in screening job candidates, ethical red flags were raised about this new alliance between science and capital. This tension was particularly evident in Münsterberg's collaboration with the Paramount Pictures Corporation in 1916. In translating psychological tests into short experimental films, Münsterberg not only envisioned a new mass medium for the dissemination of psychotechnics, but a means by which to initiate the masses into the culture of experimental psychology.

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