Walter Dill Scott: Biography Of This Psychologist From The Corporate World

This researcher was a pioneer when it came to investigating the psychological foundations of advertising.

Walter Dill Scott

Walter Dill Scott was an American psychologist who made many contributions to applied psychology, especially in the industrial area. As his biography shows us, Dill Scott laid many of the psychological foundations of advertising and current human resources principles.

Below you will find the biography of Walter Dill Scott, one of the first to recognize and apply principles of psychology in business. The latter in relation to advertising, as he considered the latter to be the “nervous system” of the business world.

Who was Walter Dill Scott? Biography of a pioneer in applied psychology

Walter Dill Scott (1869-1995) was born in Cooksville, Illinois. His training at Northwestern University was in the artistic and educational area. He subsequently moved to Germany to study psychology under Wilhelm Wundt at the University of Leipzig, where he received a doctorate in philosophy in psychology and education in 1900.

With this degree he returned to the Northwestern University faculty of psychology as a professor, laboratory director and later head of the department. He was also a professor of advertising and applied psychology at the School of Commerce.

Along with several of his colleagues, Walter Dill Scott believed that the advertising field had a great future. Thus, in 1903, together with other authors, he published the first book on the subject of advertising in relation to psychology : The theory and Practice of Advertising (Theory and practice of advertising).

From psychology to advertising

Walter Dill Scott was not only interested in psychology, but in world affairs and had a broad understanding of history. This, together with his general orientation in culture, allowed him to see the possibilities of advertising as a popular educational force, which gradually led him to define some standards of truthfulness and effectiveness.

Very soon he realized that advertising could exert changes in the mind, with which, the laws that govern the mind should be taken into account to determine whether an advertisement would be effective or not. In other words, she suggested that advertising has psychological components that can be exploited.

Also, as Dill Scott analyzed commercials, he realized that many of them were poorly made. From there he began to wonder how he could improve them, and one of the conclusions he reached was that the first thing was to select appropriately qualified people to prepare the ads.

In other words, beyond the essential qualities of effective advertising, Dill Scott began to consider the qualities necessary for a successful salesperson. Thus, he quickly became the number one authority in the field of advertising psychology and in the selection and management of human resources.

In turn, advertising and personnel management were positioned as two key elements for the business field, which opened a very important door for applied psychology.

Contributions for the management and selection of personnel

Between 1908 and 1915 Walter Dill Scott conducted a vendor selection study for the American Tobacco Company. His intention was to develop and test criteria for a systematic selection of sellers.

For this, he began by closely observing how the interviewees who were in charge of hiring the staff operated. Very soon he realized that they used a simple method that he described as “give or take”, thus, they did not provide the information he needed.

So Scott began to directly examine and analyze the qualities of the company’s most successful salespeople. Afterward, he discussed these qualities with his research team and with company interviewers. This allowed him to train interviewers on how to determine whether applicants met the desired qualities.

Finally, Scott and his team supervised the application of their approach until it was fully demonstrated that the interviewers were effectively selecting salespeople. The result was very important to the company, prompting Scott to take on more staff evaluation and management tasks within the same company, and later in others.

Important works

Some of the classics of Walter Dill Scott, which were published between 1903 and 1917, are: Increasing Human Efficiency In Business: A Contribution to the Psychology of Business (increasing human efficiency in business: a contribution to the psychology of business ), Influencing Men in Business , Aids in Selecting Salesmen , and the article Psychology of Advertising .

Other books that were later published and have had much impact in the field of business and advertising are Personnel Management (Personnel management) and Science and Common Sense in Working With Men (Science and common sense in working with men) .

Bibliographic references:

  • Northwestern University Archives (2009). Walter Dill Scott. Retrieved May 14, 2018.Available at
  • Jacobson, JZ (1951). Scott of Northwestern. The life of a pioneer in psychology and education. Retrieved May 14, 2018.Available at

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