Div. 21 President
Current President: James L. Szalma, PhD
Professor and Director, Human Factors and Cognitive Psychology PhD Program
University of Central Florida
I joined Div. 21 when I was a graduate student, because this division was (and still is) the “home” within APA for psychologists interested in the application of psychological science to behavior in “real-world” contexts. APA is one of the largest organizations in psychology, and Division 21 is the hub within APA for researchers and practitioners interested in human-technology interaction and human performance.
There are many terms that describe the work our members do, e.g., engineering psychology, human factors, ergonomics, cognitive ergonomics, cognitive engineering. This may be due in part to changes in terminology throughout our history, but it also reflects the interdisciplinary nature of our field. Professionals interested in human-technology interaction include psychologists as well as engineers, computer scientists, information scientists, and digital media designers, to name but a few.
Engineering psychology and applied experimental psychology
I first heard the term “engineering psychology” when I was a first-year graduate student. I was horrified, because I misunderstood the term to mean that the goal was to engineer humans to fit the requirements of tasks or interfaces, of objectifying humans as cogs in larger machines. I quickly learned that the purpose of engineering psychology is the opposite of my na?ve and misguided notions. Engineering psychology is the application of psychological theory and research to understanding the factors influencing human-technology interactions, and to informing the design of technologies to create interfaces that support the psychological needs and capabilities of people who use them. Technology should be structured to fit the human, not the other way around. The broad objective of the field is to improve human performance, safety, and well-being.
Applied experimental psychology is concerned with human behavior in real-world environments, applying the methods of experimental psychology to investigating the psychological processes underlying such behavior, and (hopefully) improving outcomes (e.g., performance, well-being). Applied experimental/engineering psychology links practical, real-world problems with the empirical and theoretical knowledge base of psychology. Our members conduct use-inspired basic research as well as applied research.
The importance of our field is now more salient than ever, as a substantial portion of the population, both in the US and globally, are dependent on relatively unfamiliar technologies to work remotely during these unprecedented times. Although we have been dependent on technology since long before COVID19, the pandemic has illustrated how crucial technology is to our everyday lives and even to our collective survival. How (and why) humans use technology will, literally, determine the fate of our species, and applied experimental/engineering psychology has a central role to play in ensuring that these technologies are usable but also support human health and well-being.
I believe that our current challenges are an opportunity for members of our division to contribute to broader efforts by APA to have a positive and meaningful impact on addressing the crises in which we find ourselves.
Last update: October 2020