Engineering Psychology Career Overview

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What Is Engineering Psychology?

Engineering psychology is an applied subfield of psychology that focuses on improving and adapting technology, equipment, and work environments to enhance human behavior and capabilities. It is closely related to the field of ergonomics, which is the science of arranging and designing objects and environments so that people can use them safely and efficiently.

Engineering psychologists are interested in understanding the capabilities and limitations of human behavior and developing and adjusting systems to maximize these abilities and prevent errors. They often help design products, workspaces, and human-machine interactions to make them more user-friendly.

Origins

The field originated as an area within experimental psychology that grew increasingly important during World Wars I and II. Early military applications in this field focused on building weapons designed to minimize human errors and increase accuracy.

Today, the field is growing significantly as people spend more and more time interacting with and using technology and equipment in their daily and work lives.

What Does an Engineering Psychologist Do?

Engineering psychologists use psychological principles to solve real-world problems.

People who work in this profession help improve, and sometimes even save, human lives. By minimizing the risks of accidents and errors, engineering psychologists can make products, systems, and workplaces safer.

These professionals can specialize in a number of different areas, such as:

  • Aerospace
  • Education and training
  • Ergonomics
  • Environmental safety
  • Healthcare systems and technology
  • Human-computer interaction
  • Human performance
  • Product design
  • Usability
  • Virtual reality
  • Workplace safety

Engineering psychologists make the technology we use every day more reliable, useful, and safe. Some examples of products that they might work to design or improve include GPS systems, mobile phones, medical equipment, military equipment, aviation technology, traffic systems, and motor vehicles.

Tasks of Engineering Psychologists

Some tasks that an engineering psychologist might perform in this line of work include:

  • Analyzing how people interact and use equipment and technology
  • Creating safe products and designs intended to minimize human errors
  • Designing medical equipment to minimize the risks of medical mistakes
  • Exploring ways to make technology more accessible to people with disabilities
  • Investigating workplace accidents and searching for ways to prevent accidents from happening again in the future
  • Implementing user feedback into future iterations of product designs
  • Surveying populations to learn more about user needs or to discover which products appeal to specific demographics

Where They Work

Engineering psychologists are employed in a range of different areas. The private sector, such as businesses and corporations, is the largest area of employment. Other employers might include colleges, universities and government agencies.

Training and Educational Requirements

The training and education needed to become an engineering psychologist can vary depending upon the specialty area in which you choose to work. Just a few of the main specialty areas include human factors, ergonomics, usability engineering, and human-computer interaction.

A master's degree in a related field is generally considered the minimum needed for entry into the field, although opportunities and pay are often much higher for those with doctorate degrees.

A number of universities offer graduate programs specifically in engineering psychology. Such programs include coursework in areas such as cognition, engineering, perception, statistics, research methods, and learning.

Those who work in the field typically earn a doctorate (PhD) in psychology with an emphasis in engineering psychology, a PhD in engineering psychology, or a PhD in human factors psychology.

Engineering Psychologist Salaries

Like most careers, salaries vary considerably depending upon factors such as degree held, years of experience, geographic location, and area of employment. Starting salaries range from $48,000 to $75,367. At the doctorate level, salaries range from about $92,000 to $111,000.

A Salary and Compensation Survey by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society reported the following average yearly salaries for doctorate-level engineering psychologists in different fields:

  • Those working at for-profit businesses: $111,368
  • Those working in academia: $92,614
  • Those working in government positions: $107,314

Job Outlook

Since the majority of engineering psychologists are employed in the private sector, the performance and growth rate of companies has a strong influence on job growth and demand in this field.

As corporations become increasingly aware of the valuable role that engineering psychologists can play in the design and development process, the demand for qualified professionals continues to grow.

The American Psychological Association (APA) identifies engineering psychology as a post-grad growth area. APA suggests that this is a rapidly growing area with a lot of potential opportunities to study and work with the interaction between humans and tasks, machines, and environments.

Is Engineering Psychology Right for You?

When deciding if you want to pursue a career in engineering psychology, try asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do I enjoy interacting with and helping people?
  • Do I like problem-solving?
  • Am I creative and innovative?
  • Do I like technology?
  • Do I like analyzing the ways humans interact with/use technology?

If the answer to most of the questions above is yes, you may be on the right track with studying engineering psychology.

Another way to know if you want to dedicate yourself to becoming an engineering psychologist is to research educational programs. Make sure you understand the coursework involved and that you feel ready to commit to a program.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Psychological Association. Human factors psychology studies humans and machines.

  2. Krueger GP. Military engineering psychology. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195399325.013.0077

  3. Schultz DP, Schultz SE. Psychology and Work Today. Prentice-Hall.

  4. American Psychological Association. Postgrad growth area: Engineering psychology.

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.