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Spotlight on Global I-O

Lori Foster Thompson, Alexander E. Gloss, and M. K. Ward1
North Carolina State University

Greetings TIP readers, and welcome to the April edition of the Spotlight on Global I-O column! This is a special issue of our column because it features I-O psychology in Papua New Guinea, compliments of our guest columnist Leo Marai. It is also a special issue because this is the last time the Spotlight column will appear in printed form. Increasingly, the practice of disseminating print media is becoming obsolete—a trend that evokes a wide range of reactions. In truth, however, this trend may effectively go unnoticed by many people in the world with historically limited access to current print journals and newsletters. Some have argued that a greater reliance on electronic forms of communication, and collaboration can promote greater participation in the field of I-O psychology by cademics and practitioners in the “majority” world (Gloss, Godbout, & Glavey, 2010).2 In effect, the movement toward posting journals and other academic content online has the potential to equalize access to knowledge about the science of work and thus facilitate knowledge sharing with our colleagues in resource-constrained regions of the world. With this consideration in mind, we now turn to Leo Marai and his profile of I-O psychology in Papua New Guinea.

Industrial and Organizational Psychology in Papua New Guinea

Leo Marai3
University of Papua New Guinea

Background of Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is an island nation located north of Australia within the South Pacific. It has a population of less than seven million people. PNG obtained its independence from Australia in 1975 and has a Westminster democratic system of government. The majority of the people (90%) who occupy this island nation are known as Melanesians, with many different ethnic groups speaking over 800 languages. The education system is a direct imitation of the Australian-British system, including the study of psychology in PNG (Marai, 1997). According to poverty statistics, 37-40% of the people live below the economic poverty line (World Bank, 2013). The rate of poverty needs serious attention both from the PNG government and from organizations concerned with humanitarian work in order to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (United Nations, 2012).


1As always, your comments and suggestions regarding this column are most welcome. Please feel free to e-mail us at: lfthompson@ncsu.edu.
2The “majority world” consists of countries which have traditionally been characterized as “developing” and which house the vast majority of the world’s population.
3Leo Marai is Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Papua New Guinea and a former head of the psychology strand at that university. Leo is also a joint-editor of the Journal of Pacific Rim Psychology and Outgoing Co-Chair of the Global Organisation for Humanitarian Work Psychology.


The History of Psychology and I-0 Psychology in Papua New Guinea

The history of Western psychology in Papua New Guinea began in 1967 when the Department of Psychology and Philosophy was established at the University of Papua New Guinea. At the time, the discipline's primary focus was on organizational, education, and clinical psychology. However, a great number of psychologists holding postgraduate qualifications in PNG were not trained within the country but were trained in other nations. During colonial times, many psychologists served in the civil service where the focus was on testing and selection of indigenous populations in the work force. These psychologists were all foreigners, mostly Australia and British citizens. Indigenous Papua New Guineans were not the producers, but instead largely the recipients, of psychological knowledge. Even today, Western psychology is learned and practiced in PNG without much modification. What students learn and research is essentially a replica of North American and European psychology. Nonetheless, I-O psychology is the biggest subdiscipline in psychology at the University of Papua New Guinea (the only psychology department in the country). Even in comparison with other social science disciplines at the University of Papua New Guinea, I-O psychology is popular among students. Most student graduates end up working in organizations, such as branches of the federal government and mining companies. They are often housed in human resource and training departments. These psychologists focus on core I-O topics, including selection, recruitment, testing, and performance appraisal. Few I-O graduates conduct research, and when they do, their research is largely focused specifically on the needs of the organizations that employ them. In summary, psychology, and in particular I-O psychology, has a short history in PNG, and the discipline is still developing an indigenous identity.4


4See Marai (1997) for a more general review of psychology in PNG.


I-O Psychology Training in Papua New Guinea

Students majoring in organizational psychology complete a 4-year undergraduate BA degree. The courses required for this degree include: Introduction to Psychology, I-O Psychology I, I-0 Psychology II, Human Factors, Psychological Testing and Assessment, Social Psychology, and Quantitative Methods in Psychology. Students are also free to take courses from other disciplines or other psychology courses for their minors. I-O Psychology II students complete an internship with an organization in order to apply some of the knowledge and skills gained in I-O Psychology I and other subjects. Those students with high GPAs can complete a BA Honors degree that takes 1 additional year to complete. The honors degree, in addition to master's degrees and PhDs, are completed through full-time research. A master's thesis takes 2 years, and a PhD takes a minimum of 3 years. In order to pursue a PhD, one must have completed a master's degree ahead of time.

How I-O Psychologists Meet and Network

At present, I-O psychologists in PNG do not have a professional body, but they do tend to join with other related associations such as the PNG Human Resource Institute. This institute holds an annual international conference in PNG where I-O psychologists, HR experts, and others within the country and abroad can meet to present and discuss their work and research. At the conference, human resource research and best practices in organizations are presented according to the selected theme of the conference. Despite the communication and collaboration stemming from this conference, the overall amount of professional networking for I-O psychologists is very limited because of a lack of a professional association to guide and stimulate the practice of I-O psychology in PNG. The lack of a professional association is also problematic because current professional practice is rather unregulated and casual.

A Personal Perspective

My personal belief about psychology in PNG is that the study of psychology must have a context focused on indigenization. This means that students must study a kind of psychology that best reflects the behaviors that primarily concern themselves and others around them and that reflects the context of the social and cultural environment they live in. In other words, the kind of psychology that psychologists in general and I-O psychologists in particular should study must relate to the realities of their society. Once we begin to conceptualize and understand the unique psychological determinants of behavior in the PNG context, we can apply that knowledge to alleviate human suffering. In my own research, I have concentrated on issues relating to unjust and discriminatory pay discrepancies between expatriate workers and locals. This work ties in with my other work that looks at how conceptualizations of work motivation and well-being are driven by Western theories and perspectives (e.g., Marai, 2002/3; Marai et al., 2010). Going forward, I believe interesting and novel findings will continue to be uncovered as we promote an indigenous understanding of the links between these behavioral constructs.

Summary and Conclusion

I-O psychology is still trying to find its place in Papua New Guinea despite its popularity in attracting students. As pointed out in Marai (1997), the development of psychology in PNG looks bleak. In order to generate the development of I-O psychology and psychology in general, we must begin the process of indigenization. From there, then we can start building an appropriate psychology and I-O psychology that is relevant for Papua New Guinea. My view is that I-O psychology must concentrate on issues related to enhancing social and economic development while retaining an emic indigenous perspective. Humanitarian work psychology (www.humworkpsy.org), the emerging subdiscipline devoted to studying organizational psychology's interaction with humanitarian work and international development, holds promise; but ultimately the development of I-O psychology in Papua New Guinea must be owned by local Papua New Guineans.


Concluding Editorial

So there you have it, a compelling and personal look into the challenges and current status of I-O psychology in Papua New Guinea. As highlighted by Leo, ensuring that I-O psychologists from the majority world are able to effectively contribute their voice to the international dialogue in I-O psychology is crucial to advancing the global nature of the discipline and the applicability of its tools and theories to local realities. We sincerely hope that in its move to an entirely online format, TIP,and this column, can even more effectively serve as a venue for voices from around the world.


Gloss, A. E., Glavey, S. A., & Godbout, J. (2012). Building digital bridges: The digital divide and humanitarian work psychology's online networks and communities. In S. C. Carr, M. MacLachlan, & A. Furnham (Eds.), Humanitarian work psychology. New York, NY: Palgrave-Macmillan.
Marai, L. (1997). The development of psychology in Papua New Guinea: A brief review. South Pacific Journal of Psychology, 9, 1-6.
Marai, L. (2002/3). Double de-motivation and negative social affect among teachers in Indonesia. South Pacific Journal of Psychology, 14, 1-7.
Marai, L. (2009). The psychology of consensus in Melanesia. Journal of Pacific Rim Psychology, 1(2), 54-57.
Marai, L., Kewibu, v., Kinkin, E., Peniop, J. Salini, C. & Kofana, G. (2010). Remuneration disparities in Oceana: Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. International Journal of Psychology, 45(5), 350-359.
United Nations. (2012). Millennium development goals report 2012. Retrieved from http://mdgs.un.org/unsd/mdg/Resources/Static/Products/Progress2012/English2012. pdf
World Bank. (2013). Papua New Guinea. Retrieved from http://data.worldbank.org/country/papua-new-guinea