What Is a Human's Psychological Makeup for Ergonomics?

Physical and behavioral psychologies are the basis for human factors studies

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One component of human factors (or ergonomics, the scientific study of interactions between mankind) is a human's psychological makeup. Human factors practitioners' primary concern is evaluating a human's behavior, especially if it is predictable. Therefore, they break human psychological makeup into two main psychological elements of interests: the physical and the behavioral. 

The Physical

The psychology of physical sensing and perceiving deals with how the brain interprets signals from the body's sensory inputs found on the skin, nose, ears, tongue, and eyes.

 

Feeling. Humans have cells that can pick up on pressure differences along their skin — this is how they feel — via two types of touch sensors. One sensor type picks up a general touch over a large area, such as those on the heel of a hand, while the other is more concentrated and refined and picks up minute changes in edges, such as sensors in the fingertips.

Hearing. Humans have a complicated series of devices in the ear that can take changes in the pressure of the air and send it to the brain as a signal that it interprets as sound. Several areas of the brain handle this processing.

Smelling. The human nose is amazingly sensitive and not only can detect scents but can also signal if there are dangerous — or attractive things — around.

Tasting. The human tongue is a wonderous muscle studded with receptors that can pick up different chemical elements and translate them into distinct taste elements, typically categorized as salty, sweet, bitter, sour, or umami (savory).

 

Seeing. The functionality of the human eye is almost magical. Specialized cells pick up three distinct colors, light intensity, and edge definitions and interpret those signals into the images perceived by mankind, providing a rainbow of colors and depth. 

The one commonality between all these sensory perceptions that is vital importance to human factors is that they are all stimulated by physical means.

These physical means make up part of the human-machine interface and even the human-environments interface. Understanding what role they play and how they can affect both human performance and behavior are important when analyzing those human factors.

The Behavioral

The behavioral aspect of a person's or population's psychological makeup relates to the elements that motivate actions or cause reactions. Therefore, how a human acts and why is an important data point. Human behavior underlies almost everything from economics to politics. In fact, economics is really about studying how people react to incentives and politics is about how people react to campaign speeches.

In ergonomics, scientists try to make things as efficient — or oftentimes comfortable and easy to use — as possible so that the human behavior data can be utilized to design a device or system for human consumption wherein the subject is motivated to use it for the desired outcome. 

This often begs the question, "What about making sure the human doesn't get hurt through the work?" which falls under the category of motivational and reactive behaviors, studied by ergonomists. If it causes stress or injury, repetitive or otherwise, predictable human behavior tells ergonomists that people won't want to do it, and if they do, they will not be operating at their maximum human performance level and will not be efficient.

Therefore, any proposal made by an ergonomist typically will preclude any harmful suggestions (as humans naturally select to avoid these).

The Culture of Behavior

The cultural aspect to the psychological makeup of a group of people can be part of the behavioral aspect, but it can also affect a person's cognitive capability. From a behavioral position, culture plays an important part in understanding what motivates an individual and how they react to certain stimuli. 

Simple things such as language can cause extremely different reactions. For instance, the differences between Mexican and American cultures can greatly affect their levels of interest in a certain issue or item. Take the case of the Chevy Nova, a popular car in America that tried to sell internationally to the population of Mexico.

When Chevy attempted to market the car, they failed to realize that "No Va" was Spanish for "No Go." The car did not sell well. 

Another such example is that in America, curling your pointer finger towards you is a common hand signal for "come here." In some Middle Eastern and African cultures, however, that gesture is exclusively reserved to call a dog and is seen as insulting when used towards a person. Conversely, in some European cultures biting a thumb is seen as a vulgar insult while in America it has no known meaning. 

On the cognitive side of these aspects, ergonomists deal with differences in the cultural lexicon. As humans grow up, they learn things they may not realize, inherently, from culture — certain things mean certain things. These become part of their instinctual understanding of the world. But not everything is universal. Color theory is a prime example of something that can possess different meaning across cultures. Even though color theory has some universal elements as to how color is interpreted, what those interpretations are defined as may differ. So where green may represent good fortune in one culture, blue may imply that in another.

Shapes, patterns and how things are organized (to name a few) can imply greatly different meanings across cultures. Some cultures even affect a person's body mechanics dictating that a certain posture or walking style is preferred.