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Human Factors in Psychology

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Human Factors in Psychology

Did you know that before alarm clocks were invented, people would insert nails into a candle? When the wax melted down to the nail, the nail would fall out, hit the floor, and wake the person up! Imagine missing an important event because the flame blew out. Technology has come a very long way!

  • What is the field of human factors psychology?

  • What are some examples of human factors psychology?

  • What are the specialty fields within human factors psychology?

  • Why is the field of human factors psychology significant?

Introduction to Human Factors Psychology

What if you had to walk everywhere you go? School, work, stores… you could only go to places close by unless you had a horse. This was a reality for many people before the invention of bikes (1817) and cars (1886). Although there are days when it feels like technology consumes most of our life, it generally makes life easier and better for many people.

What does technology have to do with psychology? Remember, psychology is the study of behavior and mental processes. Part of behavior and mental processes is how these things interact with technology. How humans interact with and use technology is the main topic in the field of human factors psychology (HFP).

Definition of Human Factors Psychology

So, what is human factors psychology?

Human Factors Psychology (HFP) is a subfield of industrial-organizational psychology that focuses on how humans interact with technology in specific environments.

HFP focuses on questions like:

  • How do humans use the tools and technologies provided to them?

  • How can we improve those tools and technology for human use?

  • How do certain pieces of technology affect human users?

  • What new pieces of technology need to be created?

The History of Human Factors Psychology

So, how did Human Factors Psychology come to be? Most fields in psychology have a founder (like Freud as the founder of Psychoanalytic Theory), but no single person is credited as the founder of HFP. The field dates back to World War II (1939-1945) when researchers and innovators needed to ensure the safety of fighter planes. From there, HFP research expanded to all workplaces to ensure the safety of everyone. Any type of job can have hazards, even if they are small ones.

During the 1800s, there was a technological boom that set the stage for HFP. Those inventions may seem basic compared to what we have now, but they laid the foundations for current inventions and pieces of technology.

In 1829, W. A. Burt invented the typographer, eventually leading to the creation of the typewriter.

In 1884, James Ritty invented the first functional mechanical cash register.

Also in 1884, Lewis Edson Waterman invented the first practical fountain pen.

Specialties in Human Factors Psychology

Human factors psychologists specialize in areas like ergonomics, occupational safety, and the design and creation of technology.

Ergonomics

Ergonomics is best defined as the fit between humans and their working environment. In particular, ergonomics explores how different types of technology change how a person works, and how we can reduce discomfort and increase productivity and safety. The general goal of ergonomists is to help workers complete their tasks as safely, comfortably, and efficiently as possible.

One example of ergonomics in office jobs is inventing solutions to back pain, poor posture, and lack of exercise due to long periods of sitting at a desk. This became an even greater problem when people began working from home! Ergonomists came up with several solutions: standing desks, inflatable ball chairs, saddle chairs, laptop risers, and desk cycles. They are still coming up with new solutions all the time!

One example of ergonomics in office jobs is solutions to back pain, poor posture, and lack of exercise due to long periods of sitting. StudySmarterStanding desk; pexels.com

Have you ever looked at desk chairs or mattresses and seen the word “ergonomic” on the label? Ergonomic desk chairs, mattresses, hand tools, or telephones are designed to fit the human body comfortably. Can you imagine having to sit all day long in a straight, hard, wooden chair that is far too small for you? We often overlook the ergonomics of a product until we use something extremely uncomfortable!

Ergonomics is not just for adult products; kids also need products that they can safely and comfortably use! From chairs to tables to electronics, kids have an entirely different set of needs than adults. Have you seen crayons that are designed for very small children? They are a great example of ergonomics!

Occupational Safety

Human factors psychologists also specialize in making sure that humans can use technology safely. This is particularly important for large pieces of technology or machinery. Even if a piece of technology can do a certain job well, it may be very unsafe for human use. You can replace technology; human life is precious and fragile and unable to be replaced. Heavy machinery usually includes emergency stop buttons and warning labels in specific locations.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is essentially the US government's branch of human factors psychology. OSHA psychologists and researchers visit different companies to make sure that employees feel safe working there and that the working environment meets environmental safety standards or codes.

Part of occupational safety is making sure the environment is conducive to using large pieces of machinery. StudySmarterHeavy machinery; pexels.com

Part of occupational safety is making sure the environment is conducive to using large pieces of machinery. Warehouses, stores, and construction sites must be able to accommodate large pieces of machinery safely (sometimes many of them at once!). Ceiling height, floor materials, loading and unloading docks, and places to park at the end of the day are all aspects of safely using machinery.

Product Design and Creation

Product design and creation are not just about new pieces of technology; this specialty also involves improving pieces of technology already in use. Not every new piece of technology is a success. Most inventors create many failed attempts before they arrive at a successful new product. Once people start using the product, they find ways the product can be improved or even completely redesigned.

Product Testers

An important part of product design and creation is making sure the product works. One way to check the fit between a product and human use is through product testing. Along with doing test runs and experiments, the research team may recruit participants to test the new product before it is released. The participants give the designers feedback about usability and what they like or dislike about the product. In many cases, the product testers get to keep the product!

One way technology evolves is through the creation and use of assistive technologies. As the name suggests, these pieces of technology are designed to assist people, usually those with physical disabilities. Computers are a great example. They already help people in their jobs and everyday life, but how do people with sight or hearing disabilities use them? With assistive technology, technicians can create and upgrade computers with new functions like braille keyboards and voice-activated commands.

 Human Factors in Psychology.Assistive technology.StudySmarterAssistive technology; pexels.com

Examples of Human Factors Psychology

Technology is great, but it has its drawbacks. Not every new piece of technology is a good thing or helpful to humanity. Nevertheless, technology is heavily integrated into our daily lives, and there are positive and negative aspects to HFP and our use of technology.

Strengths of Human Factors Psychology

The study and application of HFP often result in an increase in productivity. Workers that are less concerned about safety because they feel comfortable using different parts of machinery can perform better. Yes, occupational safety is legally required, but some businesses may need to meet more than the minimum legal requirements.

Another positive aspect of HFP is helpful new or improved technologies. A big reason why new technologies are created is to make life easier or simpler. New technologies that benefit workers can save time and use human skills more effectively and creatively.

Assembly lines in factories can be replaced by smart technology to make packing quicker. There is a downside to this example, though: replacing human workers with technology can cause people to lose their jobs.

HFP can help decrease human errors. Humans make mistakes, but technology can help avoid or remove some of these mistakes. Some mistakes are really small, but other mistakes can lead to accidents and even deaths.

Before calculators were invented, people did math calculations manually, or they used an abacus: a handheld device with sliding beads on rods. Calculators make doing math much quicker and more accurate. Autocorrect or spell check functions in word processors and browsers are another great example of decreasing human errors. Word processors themselves are a technological upgrade, just like typewriters were as well. Imagine having to handwrite all of your school assignments!

Weaknesses of Human Factors Psychology

Many of the positive aspects of HFP also have a negative side. Productivity can also be decreased because of technological advancements. Automation in the workplace creates more time for humans to focus on other tasks, but it can also decrease human motivation and performance. Even though technology can make work faster, many people have lost jobs due to an increase in automation.

Many grocery stores have self-checkout lanes where the customer does the entire process by themselves, eliminating the need for more cashiers.

HFP can only do so much. No matter how hard we try to remove human errors, there will still be problems. Human mistakes are one of the leading causes of workplace incidences, due to things like lack of expertise or experience, skipping crucial steps, or impaired judgment. Even a well-designed product is susceptible to user errors.

Importance of Human Factors Psychology

In many workplaces, like offices or hospitals, people use computers to store and retrieve data. In factories, people use smart technology to package and ship materials. Many of our jobs and tasks are designed around technology, which makes HFP a crucial field of study!

Human factors psychologists improve working environments, increase effectiveness, support important work operations, and keep everyone safe. By reducing human error and increasing safety, HFP psychologists save many lives. They also help inventors design with users in mind. Ultimately, HFP psychologists study the role of human limitations and strengths in using technology to protect and enhance human resources in the workplace.

Human Factors Psychology a man in a wheelchair being fitted for a new robotic arm StudySmarterHumans and technology; pexels.com

Human Factors in Psychology - Key Takeaways

  • Human Factors Psychology (HFP) is a subfield of industrial-organizational psychology that focuses on how humans interact with technology in specific environments.
  • Human factors psychologists specialize in areas like ergonomics, occupational safety, and the design and creation of technology.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is essentially the US government's branch of human factors psychology.
  • One way technology evolves is through the creation and use of assistive technologies.
  • Many of our jobs and tasks are designed around technology, which makes HFP a vital field of study!

Frequently Asked Questions about Human Factors in Psychology

Human factors are important because they play a role in everyday life. 

Examples of human factors in psychology include ergonomics, safety in the workplace, product creation, human technological capacity, and human-computer collaboration.

The three main goals of human factors psychology are (1) to study human interaction with tools and technology in particular environments, (2) to improve tools and technology for human use, and (3) to optimize human interaction with technology. 

Human factors in psychology are the study of how humans interact with technology in specific environments. 

Final Human Factors in Psychology Quiz

Question

Name one positive influence caused by Human Factors: 

Show answer

Answer

Increase in human productivity. 

Show question

Question

Name one negative influence caused by Human Factors:  

Show answer

Answer

Decrease in human productivity.  

Show question

Question

How does occupational safety increase human productivity? 

Show answer

Answer

Occupational safety is used to guarantee that employees are safe in their working environment and when this is provided to workers, they can behave optimally because they do not have to worry about safety hazards.  

Show question

Question

Name one positive influence caused by Human Factors:  

Show answer

Answer

Technological advancements

Show question

Question

Why are human factors important?  


Show answer

Answer

Human Factors in Psychology is worth studying because it plays a role in everyday life. By understanding the interaction that humans have with tools and technology provided to them, we can observe the positive and negative impacts that each invention or advancement can have.  

Show question

Question

How can automation decrease human productivity? 

Show answer

Answer

While automation in the work environment does create more time for humans to focus on other duties/tasks, it can also promote laziness and a decrease in overall performance because people don’t need to assert more effort in their work. 

Show question

Question

True or False: Human Factors Psychology (HFP) is a subfield of industrial-organizational psychology that focuses on how humans interact with technology in specific environments. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

True or False: Ergonomics explores how different types of technology change how a person works, and how we can reduce discomfort and increase productivity and safety

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: ___________ is best defined as the fit between humans and their working environment. 

Show answer

Answer

Ergonomics  

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: Part of _____________ is making sure the environment is conducive to using large pieces of machinery. 

Show answer

Answer

occupational safety 

Show question

Question

True or False: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is essentially the US government's branch of human factors psychology. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

True or False: Assistive technologies are pieces of technology designed to assist people, usually those with physical disabilities. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Alice is a human factors psychologist and she specializes in helping companies create technology that will make the working environment more comfortable for workers. 

For example, Alice advised a company to provide standing desks for all their employees to counteract back pain. 

Which area of human factors does Alice specialize in? 

Show answer

Answer

Ergonomics 

Show question

Question

True or False: The general goal of ergonomists is to help workers complete their tasks as safely, comfortably, and efficiently as possible.  

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Which psychologist is the founder of Human Factors Psychology? 

Show answer

Answer

No one is credited as the founder of Human Factors Psychology. 

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: During the _______, there was a technological boom that set the stage for HFP.  

Show answer

Answer

1800s

Show question

Question

Which war does Human Factors Psychology (HFP) date back to? 

Show answer

Answer

World War II

Show question

Question

True or False: Human Factors Psychology dates back to World War II (1939-1945) when researchers and innovators needed to ensure the safety of fighter planes. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Lisa is a human factors psychologist and she specializes in making sure that technology is safe for use.

For example, Lisa makes sure that the instructions for heavy machinery is present and easy to understand. 

Which area of human factors does Lisa specialize in? 

Show answer

Answer

Occupational Safety 

Show question

Question

True or False: Ergonomists visit different companies to make sure that employees feel safe working there and that the working environment meets environmental safety standards or codes.  

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

True or False: One strength of Human Factors Psychology is that HFP can help decrease human errors.  

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

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