What Does an Engineering Psychologist Do?

By: Lauren Mineau

Engineers are focusing on creating technology to solve human problems. More and more, we need people in the field of engineering psychology to study the relationships those products create.

Engineering psychologists study how we interact with, perceive and are influenced by products and technology. They can also work with engineers to make products safer and easier to use based on the human condition.

History

The history of engineering psychology began in the 1940s during World War II. Weapons used during this war were advanced for the time but they still weren’t perfect. Malfunction was common and they often led to costly mistakes, most of them caused by human error.

The machines and other technologies of the time were not built with the needs and abilities of the users at the time, and they were very difficult to use. To correct this problem, psychologists were brought in to help engineers create more user-friendly designs.

One of the first designs built to restrain human error was the use of psychoacoustics by S.S. Stevens and L.L. Beranek. They were two of the first American psychologists called upon to help change how people and machinery worked together. One of their first assignments was to try and reduce noise levels in military aircraft.

This field also encompasses ergonomics, a term many of us in office jobs have probably heard. Ergonomics is the scientific study of ordinary people in work situations and is applied to the design of processes and machines, to the layout of work places, to methods of work, and to the control of the physical environment, in order to achieve greater efficiency of both person and machine.

Day to Day

Engineering psychologists are typically called on as consultants in fields like software design and development.

One of the main duties of engineering psychologists is to conduct research on what consumers want and need when it comes to their products. Psychologists might do this by creating focus groups, test panels, and consumer surveys. They are often able to study how people interact with products and spot potential problems, such as safety issues or features that might be hard to use. By consulting with engineers and developers, engineering psychologists can help create products that are less likely to result in problems due to human error.

Demographics and user abilities are also a big part of this field. For example, engineering psychologists are often asked to research which types of people are more likely to buy certain products, how they look and work. They might help change a product so that consumers find it easier to use or more appealing. Their work helps companies not only design products, but make sure they can market their work correctly.

Engineering psychologists work in many fields, like software development, computer science, engineering, and aviation. Because the ease of use of medical equipment can often make the difference between life and death, engineering psychologist positions are also quite common in the medical field.