Cognitive Ergonomics

Last updated: May 5, 2019

What Does Cognitive Ergonomics Mean?

Cognitive ergonomics is a subfield of ergonomics that considers how a worker’s mental processes are affected by his or her regular interaction with the working environment.

These interactions include the mental load associated with the worker’s duties, as well as any mental stress that may occur as the result of exposure to the workplace.

Safeopedia Explains Cognitive Ergonomics

Cognitive ergonomics is used to enhance occupational health and safety by limiting the mental load a worker has to deal with in potentially dangerous situations. This increases the reliability with which the worker will be able to effectively and safely carry out the assigned tasks. The role of cognitive ergonomics is to ensure that a worker’s duties and working environment are appropriate when his or her psychological needs, capabilities, and limitations are considered.

Cognitive ergonomists work to understand the functional limitations of human mental capacity and apply their understanding to how those limitations affect workers. Insights from cognitive ergonomics are drawn from cognitive psychology and other cognitive subfields. The basic factors that are considered when evaluating a workplace are the demands that the environment and tasks place on a worker’s attention, sensation and perception, working/short-term memory, and long-term memory.

A major insight of the field is the recognition of the significant mental load that task-switching imposes upon workers. When workers are required to switch between tasks, performance of simple tasks is significantly reduced, particularly if those switches come as unexpected interruptions. The resulting decrease in performance is associated with an increase in the number of errors made while performing the task, thus increasing the risk of an accident or other safety incident.


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