Gideon - The First Psychologist

The origins of psychological testing.

Gideon - The First Psychologist

The father of psychology is widely known as Wilhelm Wundt, who established the first research laboratory dedicated to psychology, in Leipzig in 1879 (Braisby & Gellatly, 2005)

The most significant and famous psychologist might be Sigmund Freud, who created the psychodynamic theory and helped us all understand the underlying drives for human behaviour.

Psychology came into prominence after the World Wars; the discipline was born, in part, out of a need to understand the reason why people would commit such atrocities against mankind.

Much earlier, in the 7th century, the Chinese developed a method of testing their civil servants, utilizing written tests that assessed verbal ability and creativity.

Samuel Pepys developed navigation tests for the rank of lieutenant in the British Navy in the 17th century, which is mentioned in the film Master and Commander.

Many individuals have contributed greatly to the field of psychology over the course of human history, but this article looks at the person I call the first psychologist for his work in assessing human behaviour.

The concept of testing can be traced as far back as the Old Testament, when Gideon was forced to find a way to reduce the number of volunteers for his army.

'Judges' and Human Resources

Verse 2 - And the Lord said to Gideon, "The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands..."

Verse 3 - Now therefore, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn and depart at once from Mount Gilead. And twenty-two thousand of the people returned and ten thousand remained.

In the army, you will go through trials to test your strength, character, and mindset. Before and after war, you will go through a psychiatric evaluation to ensure you are mentally fit to serve. If you are deemed unstable, you will not pass, and you will not return to action. Unstable does not mean crazy, it means unstable to the army's standard of mental strength/balance.

I have worked at a Military Hospital and witnessed a large amount of people working to improve their patients' cognitive reasoning. I met a woman who was a practitioner in understand sleep difficulties specific to those dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In Judges, after God spoke to Gideon, the number of soldiers in the army was reduced to ten thousand from twenty-two thousand.

Gideon states, quoting God, that 'all who are fearful and afraid, turn back.' If you do not have the mental resolve do not fight in the army. That was a 68.75% reduction in military personnel.

The role of HR is to look out for the well-being, development, and recruitment of staff. If you no longer have the mental capacity to continue the workload, HR is supposed to find ways to alleviate this stress, such as by offering counseling services or granting sabbatical leave. Business Psychologists can also do this.

Verse 4 - but the LORD said to Gideon, "The people are still too many; bring them down to the water, and I will test them for you there..."

Verse 5 - So, he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, "Everyone who laps from the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set apart by himself; likewise, everyone gets down to drink."

Verse 6 - and the number of those who lapped up, putting their hands to their mouth, was three hundred men; but the rest of the people got down on their knees to drink water.

Verse 7 - Then The LORD said to Gideon, "By the three hundred men who lapped I will save you and deliver the Midianites Into your hand. Let all the other people go, every man to his place."

Psychology is the study of understanding behaviour.

Assessment Centres are designed to test applicants to see if candidates have the potential to succeed in a particular role.

Gideon devised a method of testing to choose between the volunteers. Gideon was instructed to take the men down to the spring and separate those who lapped up their drink from those who got down on their knees to drink. Those who crouched down, he rejected, as it indicated a failure to remain alert.

This was the earliest form of psychological testing. And the person administering the test was Gideon (albeit through the direction of God), thus making him the earliest psychologist.

As a military leader, he oversaw the reduction of his army from thirty-two thousand to three hundred by testing for alertness and bravery.I attended an assessment centre for a graduate role in recruitment and also for Vodafone. Throughout the assessment, people were sent home if they did not meet the criteria or meet certain standards to provide the assessor. Gideon sent people home if they bent on their knees to drink rather than lapping water up with their hands. They needed to see our personality and aptitude. Research suggests assessment centres are a good indication and predictor for on-the-job performance.

What is the logic behind Gideon's test?

If you knelt down, this could be an indication of weakness. Someone who is quick to kneel down may symbolise slowness, fear, or a quickness to surrender–qualities not suitable for a soldier.

The concept of understanding behaviour has been around for centuries. More people need to know the basics of psychology and the importance of it. Gideon may not have been a qualified psychologist compared to modern standards, but as a military leader, he needed to see who will be able to lead with him and was capable of doing so.

If you are interested in getting a personality assessment or aptitude assessment test done, email me:

[email protected]

Thank you for reading

Michael Olaniran BSc MSc RQTU

Assessment Psychologist

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