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What is Engineering Psychology?

Students who are interested in the way people interact with environments, tasks, and machines may consider entering the rapidly growing field of engineering psychology. From the moment we wake up to the moment we close our eyes at night, we are immersed in a world saturated by technology. In addition to everyday interactions with smartphones, computers, and appliances, we are often at the mercy of technology when we check into the hospital, board an airplane, ride the subway to work, and drive our cars. Engineering psychologists seek to understand the relationship between how people interact with these applications and services.

Why the Field is Hot

People are beginning to understand that there is a need for specialists and psychologists who can evaluate data on a system's or product's use and provide recommendations. For instance, one can say that traveling on the road in a particular vehicle is safer than other cars because a company took the time to evaluate the product before putting it into service. There are millions of things that can be improved, from the type of scissors you use to stop signs on the road, and the goal of this particular field of psychology is to purposefully make someone's life better.

What many companies are starting to realize is that their traditional engineers are unable to account for each single interaction with a system or product because they aren't as familiar with the human mind and behavior. The demand for psychologists in the engineering field is thriving, mainly because industries are beginning to realize final products are more enjoyable to use and functional if psychologists take an active role in the design process. Further, a system or product that is well-designed right from the start will help eliminate costly redesigns and frustrated customers, ultimately increasing the company's bottom line and consumer satisfaction rate.

What Do Engineering Psychologists Do?

Engineering psychologists and human factors ultimately strive to make interactions between people and products more comfortable, easier, less frustrating, and, when necessary, safer. However, their purview extends beyond everyday gadgets; they may also apply the principles of psychology to rate and improve products that are critical to life such as computer systems for airlines and medical equipment. In fact, recent media reports on medical errors have contributed to the increased demand for psychologists in engineering. For instance, an engineering psychologist can help design medical equipment as well as the layout of operating rooms in order to minimize the risk of errors. Because engineering psychologists typically work in private industries, the job outlook closely follows the economy.

One drawback to the field is that it is still relatively new. One one hand, engineering psychologists can apply their knowledge, experience, and expertise to countless areas, but on the other hand, they must be comfortable with the best way to market themselves. They are responsible for showing a company how they can help. Engineering psychologists work in a variety of environments, including private industry, the government, and academia as well as in places where safety is critical such as aviation. In addition, engineering psychologists may also advise NASA, the Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and car companies. Whether their specialty is human factors, usability engineering, human-computer interaction, or ergonomics, those working in the field of engineering psychology aim to improve lives.