A human factors psychologist researches abilities and limitations of human behavior, using the information in designing tools, machines, tasks, and work environments. A combination of engineering techniques and psychological theories might go into the design of products that are comfortable, safe, and user friendly. Much of the work performed by a person in this field occurs in a laboratory setting where experiments are developed, conducted, and analyzed.
Psychologists working in this profession might be employed by government agencies, including the military. They might also work for private industry by providing information about human behavior for development of new products. For example, a human factors psychologist might work for a commercial airline company conducting research on how pilots interface with equipment in a cockpit. This research might include the effect of automation on human performance or ways to improve the comfort of pilot seating.
In the transportation industry, a human factors psychologist might study how motorists make decisions, what factors lead to distraction, or how cognition and perception contribute to accidents. The psychologist might also assess human operation of new technology used in the auto industry, including its safety features. The design of new products typically analyzes how humans interface with technology via ergonomics.
Job opportunities might exist as a consultant to administrative departments. A human factors psychologist in this area might research and report how humans process information and how it relates to job performance. Corporations might employ someone in this area to reduce the number of errors affecting profits.
A human factors psychologist usually holds a master’s degree or doctorate degree in the subject. He or she typically completes courses covering a wide range of psychology, including research methods, statistics, methodology, and physiological psychology. College courses commonly require research projects and an apprenticeship outside the university.
Seminars often focus on organizational psychology and safety. A human factors psychologist needs an understanding of computer science and how it applies to industrial settings. Cognitive psychology focuses on how people learn using perception and memory at different ages. The psychology of human performance might also be helpful when designing products.
Research projects might entail measuring how personality affects job performance when using tools or performing tasks. The psychologist might measure the effect of stress and fatigue on human-machine interaction. Workload studies might be incorporated into the research to discover how to reduce human error and improve safety.