Human factors research
Francis T. Durso, Georgia Institute of Technology, Keith S. Jones, & Patricia R. DeLucia, Texas Tech University Human factors is often used as a superordinate term that covers a number of endeavors that share the goal of understanding andimproving the interactions of human operators with their technology, work environment, and other domain operators (see Engineering Psychology). We all recognize the bad design that has not been informed by human factors research. The door you push that you should have pulled; the instructions that misdirect you; the device that looks elegant but which fails to suggest how to turn on (Norman, 1998). Manyof the disciplines considered in this entry are related by family resemblance, although they do tend to share some common assumptions and the goal of aiding the human operator. The distinctions among endeavors like engineering psychology, ergonomics, cognitive engineering, cognitive ergonomics and so forth are often subtle, and they need not stand in the way of understanding this family ofresearch efforts. Human factors research includes studying different operators—the young child’s computer to the elderly’s medical reminding system; using a variety of methods— anthropometrics, task analyses, surveys, natural observation, simulations, laboratory experiments, and modeling; in a number of domains—aerospace, transportation, medicine, recreation, industrial processing; with the hope ofimproving the system. In the science of human factors there is the added hope of extracting generalizable principles that will be of value in other systems. We hope to characterize the breadth and diversity of human factors research (see
Salvendy, 2005) by presenting a selection of research cases. The reader will note the variety of methods and domains. Land mines & knowledge elicitation The impactof land mines as measured in human lives and casualties is huge. Finding and dismantling the weapons is not easy, especially with modern mines. Landmine detection requires humans using sophisticated hand-held equipment that uses electromagnetic induction to detect metals, and more recently radar to detect discontinuities in the soil. As late as 1995, the detection rate was quite poor: 15% for theM14 mine for example. As with all tasks, there is variation in performance. Some experts perform at a much higher rate—sometimes 90%. Human factors researchers (Stazewski & Davison, 2000) took advantage of that fact. They elicited the procedural knowledge from experts: They videotaped the expert and asked him to “think aloud” as he performed the task and then spent hours analyzing the video andverbal protocols. From this, the researchers discerned the skills and strategies relevant to the superior performance. They then created an instructional program that was based on the “expert blueprint” and trained new personnel. The new personnel moved to the upper 80 percent range. Insights are also being taken from this work to begin developing fully autonomous mine detectors. Aviation safety &natural observations In 1978, United flight 173 ran out of fuel and crashed outside of Portland, Oregon. The flight had actually arrived at its destination much earlier, but the pilot and crew circled the airport for an hour while the tanks emptied. Analysis by the National Transportation Safety Board attributed the crash to a failure in communication among the crew. Since then a great deal ofresearch
on what has come to be known as crew resource management (Helmreich, Merrit, & Wilhelm, 1999) has taken place and has successfully changed the commercial flight deck from the absolute domain of the captain, to a flatter organizational structure in which the co-pilot can comfortably and effectively bring other perspectives and perceptions to bear. Much of this work developed from natural...