The Basics of Human Factors Psychology

Maximizing Human Capabilities

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Human factors psychology focuses on creating and improving products, equipment, machines, and environments to complement human capabilities and maximize performance and safety. Take a closer look at this rapidly growing subfield to learn more about what human factors psychology is and what psychologists working in this field do.

What Is Human Factors Psychology?

Human factors is an interdisciplinary area of psychology that focuses on a range of different topics, including ergonomics, workplace safety, human error, product design, human capability, and human-computer interaction. In fact, the terms "human factors" and "ergonomics" are often used synonymously, with "human factors" being commonly used in the United States and "ergonomics" being the preferred term in Europe.

Human factors work to apply principles of psychology to designing products and creating work environments that boost productivity while minimizing safety issues. This discipline differs a great deal from areas such as clinical psychology or counseling psychology as it does not focus on understanding individuals or psychological problems.

The discipline of human factors is devoted to understanding how people interact with their environments and the products and objects in those environments.

History of Human Factors Psychology

The field of human factors formally began during World War II, when a range of experts worked together to improve the safety of airplanes. Since that time, human factors psychology has continued to grow and today plays a significant role in many other fields, including computing, manufacturing, product design, engineering, military, and government industries.

What Human Factors Psychologists Do

Human factors psychology is very applied, with most employed in this area working directly in the field. Psychologists working in human factors spend much of their time performing research and using what they know about human behavior, perception, attention, and cognition to create more usable products and work environments.

Human factors psychologists often conduct research on specific topics to solve real-world problems that impact human performance.

For example, a human factors psychologist might do research on a particular product that is used in a workplace, such as a screen interface used by workers at an electrical plant or healthcare professionals in a hospital.

After doing research on how employees interact with and utilize the interface, the psychologist can then redesign the product to make it easier and safer to use, as well as more accurate. By understanding how people interact with technology, human factors psychologists can help minimize potentially dangerous errors.

Creating training programs, increasing human productivity and performance, designing more reliable products, creating ergonomic workstations to reduce employee fatigue and injury, and researching ways to lower human errors are just a few of the tasks that human factors psychologists might be involved in on a regular basis.


Human factors psychologists may choose to specialize in a particular area. Some of the specialty areas within this field include:

  • Cognitive ergonomics
  • Error prevention
  • Human-computer interaction
  • Product design
  • Usability
  • User experience engineering

Work Environment

Since human factors psychology can be applied to almost any situation that involves humans working with environments, products, and machines, professionals in the field are often employed in a broad range of settings. They might work for government agencies to evaluate and design defense products and tools, or they might work for private companies to design computers and software.

Some of the businesses and organizations that might hire a human factors psychologist include:

  • Consulting firms hired by both government offices and private corporations
  • Federal, state, and local government agencies
  • Private businesses in sectors such as health care, computers, automotive, aerospace, telecommunications, nuclear, and consumer products

Why Study This Field?

There are many great reasons to study human factors psychology.

Human factors psychology is a multidisciplinary field that often works with people in other areas, including engineering, medicine, and computer science. Consider some of the advantages below of working in this area before you decide if it is right for you.

Human factors psychologists help others by developing products that maximize usability. They also strive to improve worker safety and efficiency.

Human factors psychologists express creativity by:

  • Assessing stylistic changes that can improve product usefulness and performance
  • Designing interfaces that are easy to understand
  • Exploring the ways that people interact with products and environments

Human factors psychologists address important topics such as:

  • Cognition
  • Educational technology
  • Graphic design
  • Human capabilities and limitations in specific work areas
  • Instructional message design
  • Perception
  • The use of virtual reality in employee training

Human factors psychology is a growing field that presents a great deal of opportunity for those interested in topics such as ergonomics, design, and human-computer interaction.


One survey by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society suggests that starting salaries in the field range between $48,000 and $75,367 per year. Professionals with doctorate degrees employed in the private sector were among the highest earners, making an average of almost $179,160 per year.


Most entry-level positions in the field of human factors psychology require at least a bachelor's degree; however, many human factors psychologists have a master's or doctorate degree specific to this area of study.

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) website has a list of HFES-accredited colleges throughout the United States that offer master's and doctorate degree programs in human factors psychology or related fields. Some of these schools include Arizona State University, Auburn University in Alabama, Clemson University in South Carolina, George Mason University in Virginia, and Virginia Tech.

9 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.
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  2. Human Factors & Ergonomics Society. Definitions of human factors and ergonomics.

  3. Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. HFES history.

  4. Oshana R. Human factors and user interface design for embedded systems. Software engineering for embedded systems. Software Engineering for Embedded Systems. 2013:417-440. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-415917-4.00014-1

  5. Hogan JD, Devonis DC, Thomas RK, et al. Human Factors Psychology. Encyclopedia of the History of Psychological Theories. 2012:533-542. doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-0463-8_302

  6. American Psychological Association. A career in human factors psychology.

  7. Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. What is human factors and ergonomics?.

  8. Saghafian M, Sitompul TA, Laumann K, Sundnes K, Lindell R. Application of human factors in the development process of immersive visual technologies: Challenges and future improvements. Front Psychol. 2021;12. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.634352

  9. Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. Resources.

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management.