What Is Human Factors Psychology?

Human Factors Psychology
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Human factors psychology focuses on creating and improving products, equipment, machines, and environments to complement human capabilities and maximize performance and safely. Take a closer look at this rapidly growing subfield to learn more about what human factors psychology is and what psychologists working in this field do.

What Is Human Factors Psychology?

Human factors is an interdisciplinary area of psychology that focuses on a range of different topics including ergonomics, workplace safety, human error, product design, human capability, and human-computer interaction.

In fact, the terms human factors and ergonomics are often used synonymously, with human factors being commonly used in the United States and ergonomics in Europe.

Human factors works to apply principles of psychology to designing products and creating work environments that boost productivity while minimizing safety issues. This discipline differs a great deal from areas such as clinical psychology or counseling psychology and it does not focus on understanding individuals or on psychological problems. Instead, human factors is devoted to understanding how people interact with their environments and the products and objects in those environments.

The field of human factors formally began during World War II, when a range of experts worked together to improve the safety of airplanes. Since that time, human factors psychology has continued to grow and today plays a significant role in many other fields, including computing, manufacturing, product design, engineering, military, and government industries.

What Makes Human Factors Psychology Different?

Human factors psychology is very applied, with most employed in this area working directly in the field. Psychologists working in human factors spend much of their time performing research and using what they know about human behavior, perception, attention, and cognition to create more usable products and work environments.

Human factors psychologists often conduct research on specific topics to solve real-world problems that impact human performance. For example, a human factors psychologists might do research on a particular product that is used in a workplace, such as a screen interface used by workers at an electrical plant. After doing research on how employees interact and utilize the interface, the psychologist can then redesign the product to make it both easier, safer, and more accurate to use.

Human factors psychologists may also help design programs and products used by healthcare professionals. By understanding how people interact with these items, psychologists can help minimize potentially dangerous errors in healthcare settings.

Creating training programs, increasing human productivity and performance, designing more reliable products, creating ergonomic workstations to reduce employee fatigue and injury, and researching ways to lower human errors are just a few of the tasks that human factors psychologists might be involved with on a regular basis.

Specializations within Human Factors Psychology

Human factors psychologists may choose to specialize in a particular area. Some of the specialty areas within this field include:

  • Human-computer interaction
  • Cognitive ergonomics
  • Usability
  • User experience engineering
  • Product design
  • Error prevention

Where Do Human Factors Psychologists Work?

Since human factors psychology can be applied to almost any situation that involves humans working with environments, products, and machines, professionals in the field are often employed in a broad range of settings. They might work for government agencies to evaluate and design defense products and tools, or they might work for private companies to design computers and software. Some of the businesses and organizations that might hire a human factors psychologist include:

  • Federal, State, and local government agencies.
  • Private businesses in sectors such as healthcare, computers, automotive, aerospace, telecommunications, nuclear, and consumer products.
  • Consulting firms hired by both government offices and private corporations.

Who Should Study Human Factors Psychology?

There are many great reasons to study human factors psychology.

Human factors psychology is a multidisciplinary field that often works with people in other areas, including engineering, medicine, and computer science. Consider some of the following advantages of working in this area before you decide if it is right for you:

Human factors psychologists help others by:

  • Developing products that maximize usability
  • Working to improve worker safety and efficiency

Human factors psychologists express creativity by:

  • Exploring the ways that people interact with products and environments
  • Designing interfaces that are easy to understand
  • Assessing stylistic changes that can improve product usefulness and performance

Important Topics in Human Factors Psychology

  • Cognition
  • Perception
  • Educational technology
  • Graphic design
  • Instructional message design
  • Human capabilities and limitations in specific work areas
  • The use of virtual reality in employee training

Human factors psychology is a growing field that presents a great deal of opportunity for those interested in topics such as ergonomics, design, and human-computer interaction. One survey by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society suggested that starting salaries in the field range between $48,000 and $75,000 per year. Professionals with doctorate degree employed in the private sector were among the highest earners, making an average of almost $180,000 per year.

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