What is Human Factors and Applied Cognition?
In the Arch Lab, we attempt to build bridges between two disciplines -- cognitive psychology and human factors engineering. Below are descriptions of each of those components, which are brought together in our lab through research applying cognitive principles to application domains.
What is Cognitive Psychology?
Cognitive psychology attempts to understand the nature of human thought processes. Psychologists who have adopted a cognitive framework argue that people learn, understand, remember, and make decisions as a result of information they derive from current circumstances, their existing memory, and the consequences of their own actions. These psychologists often assume that we develop such understanding by processing this information through a series of stages. Thus, cognitive psychology is interested in topics such as attention, visual and auditory perception, short-term memory, reasoning, long-term memory, forgetting and intelligence. Cognitive psychology is often contrasted to behaviorism: behaviorists are interested in behavior, while cognitive psychologists are interested in the mental processes underlying behavior.
Careers related to Cognitive Psychology
Most cognitive psychologists are engaged in basic or applied research. Careers often include university professor, industrial consultant, human factors specialist, research associate, and research assistant. Many cognitive psychologists now participate in applied research projects, that is, projects designed to solve a specific problem or develop a specific product. Such projects as designing computer software to improve efficiency of computer use and understanding strategies that people use when solving mechanical problems are examples.
Degrees necessary to work in Cognitive Psychology
Most careers in cognitive psychology require master's or doctoral degrees, although entry-level positions as research assistants are often available with a baccalaureate degree. Many psychologists enter the work force after completing their undergraduate education, but return for graduate training later in their career. The GMU Psychology Department does not offer a graduate degree in cognitive psychology, but has M.A. and a Ph.D. programs in the related field of Applied Cognition.
Required and recommended undergraduate cognitive courses
An undergraduate student seeking to enter the field of cognitive psychology should select a broad range of research-oriented courses, for example, learning, cognition, perception, sensory psychology, motivation, human factors, and, perhaps, social psychology, and tests and measurement. A strong background in statistics and research methodology is also important, as well as a basic knowledge of computers and programming. Finally, research done under the direction of a faculty member in independent study or senior thesis courses will allow a student some hands-on research experience.
What is Human Factors Engineering?
The human factors' program trains students in the application of psychological principles to "real-world" problems. Particular expertise can be developed in such areas as cognitive ergonomics, cognitive task analysis, computational cognitive modeling (such as ACT-R), Usability Evaluation Methods, the psychology of programming, expertise, interface design, transportation, and telecommunications. The psychology program excels in the development of quantitative skills. Programming expertise is also emphasized.
Students in our Human Factors' program can elect to focus on either professional training or preparation for doctoral programs. Both tracks stress the analytic and empirical methodologies that are used in all phases of interactive systems design (where this is broadly defined to include any human-machine system). The power and interpretation of these techniques reside in their close ties to cognitive theory. The professional training track emphasizes course work and practical experience; the doctoral preparation track involves students in ongoing research projects.
Careers related to Human Factors Engineering
Most careers in Human Factors are in the area of research. This research is carried out in a number of settings. These include industry, military research organizations, research and development firms, government, and private consultants. A limited number of positions are available in teaching, with a Ph.D.
Degrees necessary to work in Human Factors
A master's degree would be a minimum requirement for most positions. Better positions are available for those people having a Psy.D. or Ph.D. degree. The GMU Psychology Department has a M.A. and a Ph.D. program in Human Factors Engineering.
Required and recommended undergraduate human factors courses
For a solid foundation for this work, students should have a strong background in traditional experimental psychology (learning, sensation, perception, motivation), statistics/design, computers, and introductory engineering courses. Research experience is desirable.