What is Human Factors Psychology?
Human factors psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on human thoughts, behaviors, strengths, weaknesses, limitations, and abilities. This branch explores human factors that influence the design, evaluation, and implementation of a variety of systems, products, environments, tools, and jobs.
What is the purpose of human factors psychology? Well, it is to produce safe and effective products and services. More specifically, human factors psychology examines perceptual and cognitive process, along with system performances, in an effort to create effective human/machine relationships.
The primary goal of this branch of psychology is to research the main components of various systems (i.e. human, environmental, and product). It is important to note that human factors psychology is not the same as counseling, clinical, or organizational psychology. In other words, this branch of psychology does not explore or address individual problems (i.e. psychological distress, mental illnesses, relationship issues, etc.).
It does, however, explore how systems function together and apart. Human factors psychology typically involves a heavy workload of researching issues that affect human functioning (i.e. perceptions, behaviors, thought processes, and cognition, in an effort to make products and services more “user friendly”).
Some of the main topics researched and addressed in this branch include: workplace safety, ergonomics, product designs, human errors, human abilities, and the interaction between humans and computers. In addition, a variety of non-psychological industries, such as military, engineering, and government agencies, apply human factors psychological methods and techniques to their business approaches, product creations, and designs. The ultimate goal of human factors psychology is to create usable products and services, while promoting employee safety, productivity, and efficiency.
The field of human factors psychology involves the following tasks:
- Designing products and services that are both safe and easy to use
- Developing systems that accommodate specific user groups
- Improving the accumulation of information, in an effort to reduce human errors
- Increasing employee productivity by focusing on human performance
- Decreasing training program costs
- Preventing, reducing, and/or eliminating mistakes and damages caused by human errors
- Revamping products and services to make them safer and more “user friendly”
- Refining workplace environments, in order to make them more acceptable to employees
- Creating effective workstations, and developing procedures that boost productivity, and lower the risk of fatigue and burnout
What are the Job Duties of a Human Factors Psychologist?
Human factors psychologist studies human behaviors (i.e. capabilities and limitations) by using specially-designed instruments, completing specialized tasks, and working in a particular work environment. More specifically, human factors psychologists use a combo of psychological concepts/theories/methods and engineering techniques to create products and services that will benefit human (people). In other words, human factors psychologists work with engineers to help design products (for consumers) that will improve their quality of life.
These products and services are designed to be safe, user-friendly, and comfortable for consumers. These psychology professions usually work in research laboratories, where they develop, conduct, and supervise human behavior experiments. The results are analyzed, and passed on to engineers, who craft the products or develop services for consumers.
Where are these psychologists normally employed? Well, many human factors psychologists work with the military, at government agencies, social service agencies, colleges/universities, businesses, and research laboratories. One of the goals of this type of psychologist is to educate organizations, academia, and consumers on human behaviors (i.e. why people behave in certain ways), in an effort to develop products that will better their lives.
For instance, a human factors psychologist may way work for an automotive company and conduct regular studies on how drivers interact with the equipment inside of the vehicle. In other words, they may test dummies or survey drivers to see how well the airbags work at saving lives or whether or not to add certain amenities to the car to improve safety and function. In this example, a human factors psychologist will study how drivers make decisions, what factors can make a driver high risk, and how perception plays a role in car accidents.
A human factors psychologist may also study and evaluate how humans (people) process information, and/or how this task affects job performance (i.e. productivity and quality). Business may employ this type of psychologist to help boost employee morale and/or improve productivity, quality, and revenue for the company. Lastly, human factors psychologists must be proficient in computer technology, applied psychology, qualitative and quantitative research methods, the concept of methodology, statistics, and physiological psychology methods.
What is the Employment Outlook for Human Factor Psychologists?
The employment outlook for human factors psychologists appears to be strong. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide employment data specifically for human factors psychologists, it does provide data for psychology as a whole. The BLS estimates that psychology jobs will grow at an average rate, at about 7 percent annually, for the next several years.
However, the American Psychological Association (APA) notes that human factors psychology is a very hot area of employment at this time, with long periods of steady growth in jobs, highlighted by shorter periods of explosive growth. While the APA doesn’t provide any specific numbers in terms of job growth, they do note that what is driving interest in human factors psychology is the desire for companies to be more functional in their operations, as well as have products that are designed to be more intuitive and enjoyable for consumers to use.
What is the Salary for a Human Factors Psychologist?
According to ZipRecruiter, human factors psychologists on average earn around $96,751 per year, as of December 2022. (ziprecruiter.com)
What Degree is Required for a Human Factors Psychologist?
The level of education required for human factors psychologists depends on the type of employment that is desired. Entry-level positions, such as research assistant, can be found with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Bachelor’s degree programs usually last four years and include courses on basic psychological topics, such as abnormal behavior, psychological statistics, history and systems of psychology, and the psychology of learning.
However, to be able to conduct research independently or work in the private or public sector, a minimum of a master’s degree in psychology is required. Psychologist licensure and advanced job positions require either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in psychology. In most states, licensure is required before one can call him/herself a “psychologist”.
To be accepted into a master’s degree program, one must first have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution.
Recommended areas of study in doctorate programs include brain science, cognitive science, and research psychology. Each of these disciplines, with a specialized area of study as part of the doctoral dissertation, would be well suited for a career in human factors psychology.
Doctoral programs usually involve at least 4-5 years of training, including 1-2 years of postdoctoral work in a setting in which human factors subjects can be researched in-depth. Common courses at the doctoral level include quantitative methods, human factors, computer science, and judgmental processes.
What Do You Learn in a Human Factors Psychology Degree?
Human factors psychology degree programs focus on a number of subjects related to the interrelationship between humans, machines, and their environment, as well as maximizing human performance. Central topics of study include:
- Human-computer interaction, including how to design computer technologies such that their usability is optimized for human use.
- Tool and system design, such that worker productivity is increased.
- Human performance optimization, including methods to improve sensation, perception, cognition, and skills acquisition in a variety of environments.
- Aviation psychology, especially with respect to improving the ability of aviation workers to remain alert, make appropriate decisions in high-stress situations, and utilize aviation technologies to maintain a safe environment.
- Engineering psychology, particularly in the realm of product design and development.
- Environmental design, such as the best layout for operating rooms to minimize the risk of medical personnel making errors.
What students learn in their human factors degree programs depend heavily on their area of concentration. For example, a human factors psychology student whose interest is in improving the performance of workers in an industrial setting might take more industrial-organizational courses than a human factors student who seeks to study ways of improving the cognitive performance of fighter pilots in a high-stress situation.
Where Do Human Factor Psychologists Work?
Human factors psychologists work in a variety of settings, including academia, research institutions, government agencies, and private industry. They may work in fields such as transportation, healthcare, military, manufacturing, and technology. They may also work in consulting firms that provide services to these and other industries.
Some human factors psychologists work in academia, where they may teach and conduct research on topics related to human factors and ergonomics. Others work in research institutions or government agencies, where they may conduct research on how people interact with products, systems, and environments, and use this knowledge to design and improve those systems.
Still others work in private industry, where they may apply their knowledge of human factors to the design of products, environments, and systems in order to make them more user-friendly and safe.
What Can You Do With a PhD in Human Factors Psychology?
A PhD in human factors psychology can open up a wide range of career opportunities, as it is a multidisciplinary field that draws on principles from psychology, engineering, design, and other fields. With a PhD in this field, you may be qualified for research and leadership roles in academia, industry, and government.
Some possible career paths for individuals with a PhD in human factors psychology include:
- Professor or researcher at a university or research institution
- Human factors consultant
- User experience (UX) designer or researcher
- Human-computer interaction (HCI) designer or researcher
- Manager or leader in a company or organization with a focus on user-centered design or HCI
- Government researcher or policymaker
With a PhD in human factors psychology, you may also be qualified for leadership roles in a variety of industries, including technology, healthcare, transportation, and manufacturing. You may also be qualified to work in consulting firms that provide human factors and user experience design services to a range of clients.