For my last blog on the psychological articles in the Economist I would like to draw people’s attention away from I/O psychology and into more fundamental science. For those that don’t know, Stephen Hawkins is attempting to find a unifying theory of the universe that connects both theories of the very large (such as gravity) with the theories that we use to explain the very small (e.g., quantum physics). The search for a unifying theory of physics is a holy grail and reminds me how far psychology let alone I/O needs to develop to become more than merely a collection of ‘random studies’.

One attempt at such a theory, however, is progressing by researchers such as Dr Lichtman and Dr Brenner and others in the emerging science of connectomics (Economist, April 11, 2009). Connectomics is the study of nerve cells and the connections between them. The goal is to get a complete circuit diagram of the brain so that the most complicated object in the known universe will be better understood.

In looking at the scale of this type of project I’m completely in awe of what must be considered a far more fundamental science than my own discipline. I’m also reminded of the hotchpotch of science that is I/O psychology and the gap between our discipline and real breakthroughs in scientific discovery. Uncovering that bright people who work hard perform better at work is hardly likely to make it into the next edition of ‘Nature’ but is seen as a profound and far finding in I/O psychology.

Applied psychology has been all of my working life and I would not change this for anything. I would however suggest that we need to be thinking like real scientists and looking for our ‘systems’ if we are really going to unlock the secrets of human behaviour at work.

That was my last blog in the series of Economist articles related to I/O. Next time you are waiting at an airport or in a magazine store I would like to strongly suggest that you have a read of the current Economist which is guaranteed to have at least one gem of knowledge applicable to I/O psychology.