Human factors (HF) is a multidisciplinary area that aims to understand and support the interactions between a human user and other elements of a sociotechnical system. Because human factors research addresses psychological, social, biological, and other task-related parameters of interactions between humans or between a human and a technical system in the context of work and industrial production, such disciplines as psychology, robotics, industrial design, engineering, anthropometry, biology, and graphic design are incorporated. Sport psychology can contribute to the field as well because of its knowledge concerning performance acquisition and the development of psychological skills like routines, inner speech, or the regulation of stress; all are useful in designing an optimal work environment. The term ergonomics is often used interchangeably with human factors.
The goal of HF research is to develop human-oriented technology that adapts to the physical and psychological needs of the human operator. Because humans must interact with technical and production-oriented systems, the research and applied discipline human factors science (HFS) exists to optimize and maintain the health and well-being of humans in particular tasks and work environment constellations. Another related goal is to develop and maintain productivity in a particular interaction between the system and the human. Therefore, experts and practitioners in human factors engineering (HFE) work to design an optimal fit between the technical production system and the human action system. Dimensions of such an optimal fit between human and technical systems are, for instance, task and person-related equipment (e.g., body-oriented shape and flexibility of equipment), the presentation and change of information in accordance with human perceptual systems, and a working structure that considers the biological needs of humans.
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From a person-related view, human factors are cognitive, motivational, perceptual, physical, or biomechanical properties of individuals and their behavior that may influence the interaction between the human and the technological system. Many approaches in HF research, therefore, explicitly address the structure and cognitive basis of human action and human motion as a main factor in the production process. For instance, research concerning attention in technological systems is based on a close interaction between psychologists and engineers. Psychologists use their knowledge about attention, perception, information processing, and memory to inform engineers, who design products based on these principles, for instance, to improve aviation safety or for constructing new cars.
There are many links between human factors science and sport psychology. For example, performance plays a central role in both areas. Therefore, both disciplines have some potential links to action theory. The action theory approach has a number of historical roots; one of which is a book on planning and the structure of behavior, which was written by American psychologists George A. Miller, Eugene Galanter, and Karl H. Pribram in 1960. This book broke away from behaviorist concepts and formulated preliminary ideas about the functional construction of action. Further roots can be found in Russian and German psychology. Thus far, the action theory approach has been formulated most elaborately for human factors by American researchers such as Donald A. Norman and German scientists like Winfried Hacker. Action theory addresses, for instance, the finding that the various elements of a behavior that can be observed externally are based on a deep hierarchical structure and are carried out in order to attain a specific action goal. Hence, activities in production processes or sport environments are always performed relative to a goal and are directed toward this goal. This gives all of the psychological processes and structures (emotions, representations, etc.) within a human– machine interaction or a particular sport setting an action-regulating function. Based on such a common background, it is possible for sport psychology to inform human factors researchers about well-investigated elements of action and performance and vice versa. While human factors research topics like perception, cognition, attention, and motivation in human–machine interaction are well investigated, important topics often investigated in sport psychology like emotion are mostly ignored. In 2011, David W. Eccles, Paul Ward, Christopher Janelle, and other researchers addressed this discrepancy. They argued that the development of emotional self-regulatory skills in human operators could support system performance, explain risk-taking behavior in human– machine interaction, and may also influence motor planning and motor control in the context of technical systems.
In recent years, the expanding field of cognitive robotics has offered new opportunities to study the construction and functionality of human factors like cognitive representations, attention, and communication with technical platforms, and in doing so has changed some perspectives in human factors research. The long-term goal of newly developed human factors disciplines like cognitive interaction technology is to develop robots with unprecedented sensorimotor, emotional, and cognitive intelligence to assist human activities in the industrial production process. Interestingly, current robot technology has matured to the point of being able to approximate a reasonable spectrum of specialized perceptual, cognitive, and motor capabilities, allowing researchers to explore the bigger picture that is the architecture for the integration of these functions into robot action control. This provides the opportunity to fit existing human models of perception, representation, motor control, and decision making together with architectures generated for robot actions. Cognitive interaction technology research labs have produced impressive humanoid robots, robot musicians, dancing robots, robot arms, and brain–machine interfaces, among others, to study the organization and functioning of human action and human–machine interaction in more detail. Based on such platforms, HF researchers are not only addressing the attention of a human user as the guiding factor of human–machine interaction, but furthermore, they wish to create a shared action and a shared attention between humans and robots. This research aims to systematically investigate the principles needed to build artificial cognitive systems based on the human archetype that can interact with a human in an intuitive way, including the acquisition of new skills by learning.
- Eccles, D. W., Ward, P., Woodman, T., Janelle, C. M., Le Scanff, C., Ehrlinger, J., et al. (2011). Where’s the emotion? How sport psychology can inform research on emotion in human factors. Human Factors, 53, 180–202.
- Norman, D. A. (1981). Organization of action slips. Psychological Review, 88, 1–15.
- Schack, T., & Ritter, H. (2009). The cognitive nature of action—Functional links between cognitive psychology, movement science, and robotics. Progress in Brain Research, 174, 231–250. doi: 10.1016/ S0079-6123(09)01319-3