engineering psychology

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engineering psychology:

see ergonomicsergonomics,
the engineering science concerned with the physical and psychological relationship between machines and the people who use them. The ergonomicist takes an empirical approach to the study of human-machine interactions.
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Engineering Psychology


a special discipline of psychology. Engineering psychology solves the following problems: (1) efficient organization of human activity in “man-machine” systems designed for control and data processing; (2) expedient distribution of functions between administrative and service personnel and automation equipment; and (3) optimizing the process of information supply and decision-making. In solving these problems, engineering psychology relies on data from allied sciences, such as psychology of the personality and industrial psychology; it also interacts closely with systems engineering and the engineering disciplines.

Engineering psychology appeared in the 1940’s and at first developed as a field within traditional industrial psychology, whose basic object of investigation was the direct interaction of the human being with the objects and implements of his labor (tools, lathe, conveyor, means of transportation, and so on). The problems of engineering psychology basically amounted to a critical analysis of errors in designing equipment or training operators and to the identification of the factors influencing the efficiency of man-machine systems. Useful recommendations were developed on efficient design of control consoles, instrument scales, indicators, and other equipment. The establishment of engineering psychology as an independent scientific discipline of psychology resulted from the automation of production and development of equipment for remote monitoring and control. In the 1950’s the rules for human receipt and processing of information were determined in general outline, and in the 1960’s the basic principles of organizing human interaction with the computer were established. The recommendations developed found practical application in automating control processes in production, aviation, and space flight. In the late 1960’s engineering psychology moved on to synthesis, to planning human activity in large systems; it is making a definite contribution to developing measures to increase their functional efficiency.

The problem of organizing efficiently human activity in man-machine systems includes analyzing the structure of the collective and bringing it into line with the structure of control selected. Consideration here is given to the mediating character of communication and relations among members of the collective, as well as to the distribution of functional duties that corresponds best to the assigned goal. Rational distribution of responsibility for decisions and reconciling the interests of every member of the collective are important problems. For successful work by small groups (the crews of flying craft, control room personnel) the criteria of psychological compatibility for group members must be identified; this is very important in composing such groups. Psychological compatibility is an important condition for maintaining the collective’s work capability, especially for a collective cut off from customary surroundings for a long period.

The starting point in distributing functions in a man-machine system is the notion that the human being should decide creative problems involving the logical analysis of the situation, its evaluation, and prediction of changes in it; the machine is assigned to routine, repetitive operations, primarily adding and calculating, in addition to storing, processing, and efficient output of large volumes of information. The electronic computer should be considered a qualified helper and conversational partner, capable of strengthening the human being’s creative thinking and intuition.

Optimizing the processes of information supply and decisionmaking requires that selective control of sources of information be organized at control centers. This is a matter of selecting the optimal characteristics of the information model: the degree of generalization (detailedness) of the data fed to the display devices; the volume and rate of information updating and the methods of coding to ensure unambiguous receipt and storing of data. The basic principle in organizing data preparation for decision-making is that when the operator demands it the computer will be able to carry out all time-consuming and auxiliary conversions of available data and present the results in the form most suitable for solving operative problems. In automated systems the operator is deprived of the possibility of directly influencing the object being controlled (object of labor). Under these conditions a new problem arose: not just reconciling the human operator’s motor actions in performance of tasks with the dynamic properties and characteristics of the implements and means of production (this problem was solved using the methods of industrial psychology), but coordinating the operator’s capabilities for receiving, processing, and transmitting data with the informational characteristics of the object under control.

The planning of human activities is based on fundamental research on the higher human psychological functions—perception, memory, and thinking (figurative and conceptual), which are the human being’s internal psychological tools and means of action. Included among such means are the operator’s experience, knowledge, programs, schemas, and skills, which taken together constitute his occupational makeup. The operator’s permanent and operational figurative-conceptual models are shaped on the basis of these internal means of activity; these models determine operator actions and decision-making. Using his arsenal of internal means of activity, the operator relies on external means, which include informational models presented on data display devices and in documentary form, machine algorithms and other auxiliary means of preparation for decision-making, control elements, and means of communication. It can be said that planning the activity of the human operator is a matter of coordinating internal and external means of activity, designing coordinated conceptual and informational models that make full use of the psychological capabilities of the operator for receiving and processing information.

Depending on conditions the center of gravity in this planning may fall within external or internal means of activity. There are a number of informational models that can conditionally be called image-models of the real situation. Among them are images of the air situation on a radar screen, aerial photographs, photographs of processes in tracking chambers, and others. These models are determined by available technical capabilities for collecting initial data. Engineering psychology recommendations on working with such informational models deal with lighting conditions, level of contrast, schedule of work, and other factors. The basic task of psychologists in these cases is to analyze the activity and shape its internal means. There are also other informational models where the operator deals with prepro-cessed, not initial, data. An example is data that goes from a computer to display devices. In these cases designers and specialists in engineering psychology have broad scope for technical realizations of different types of informational models and can direct primary attention to developing adequate external means of operator activity.

Among the most important problems of engineering psychology are developing methods of occupational selection, instruction, and training of operators; identifying the specific features of operator activity in concrete systems and developing recommendations, norms, and standards for consideration of the human factor fn building and operating production, military, and organizational systems; designing efficient information models and control elements; formulating requirements for computer algorithms and methods of operator problem-solving; developing methods for monitoring the functional states of operators (fatigue, psychological strain, stress); developing principles for constructing operator work positions in accordance with the requirements of industrial aesthetics and artistic design.

Developing as an applied scientific discipline, engineering psychology uses the achievements of theoretical and experimental psychology in formulation of its problems, in research methods, and in developmental work; at the same time it gives these fields new research problems. In the current stage engineering psychology is particularly interested in data obtained in the study of the individual psychological traits of the personality, especially the emotional sphere and the sphere of needs and motives for action. Discovering strictly psychological criteria and methodologies for investigating the mechanisms of operator action is an essential condition for solving engineering psychology problems.

The organizations and persons carrying on research, consultation, and pedagogical work in the field of engineering psychology abroad are joined in the following societies: the Human Factors Society (USA), the Ergonomics Research Society (Great Britain, France, and Japan), and Anthropotechnik (Federal Republic of Germany). In the USSR the engineering psychology services are coordinated by appropriate sections of the Society of Psychologists of the USSR and the Scientific Council on the Complex Problem “Cybernetics” attached to the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.


Inzhenernaia psikhologiia (collection of articles). Moscow, 1964.
Inzhenernaia psikhologiia: Sb. st.Moscow, 1964. (Translated from English.)
Lomov, B. F. Chelovek i tekhnika. Moscow, 1966.
Inzhenerno-psikhologicheskie trebovaniia k sistemam upravleniia.Moscow, 1967.
Woodson, W. E., and D. W. Conover. Spravochnik po inzhenernoi psikhologii dlia inzhenerov i khudozhnikov-konstruktorov.Moscow, 1968. (Translated from English).
Ivanov, S. Chelovek sredi avtomatov.Moscow, 1969.
Meister, D., and G. Rabideau. Inzhenerno-psikhologicheskaia otsenka pri razrabotke sistem upravleniia. Moscow, 1970. (Translated from English.)
Voennaia inzhenernaia psikhologiia.Moscow, 1970.
Ergonomika: Printsipy i rekomendatsii.issues 1–4. Moscow, 1970–72.


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