Human Factors and Applied Cognition
PsychologyThe College of Humanities and Social Sciences

The Program

The graduate program in Human Factors and Applied Cognition (HFAC) provides instruction and research training (MA and PhD) for students wishing to pursue careers in the academic, public, and private sectors. A certificate program in usability is also offered.  Across all areas, a strong emphasis is placed on students developing a good understanding of cognitive theory, acquiring advanced methodological and statistical skills, and learning how to apply these tools to real-world human factors problems. The program is accredited by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

The program emphasizes three primary areas: human factors, applied cognition, and neuroergonomics.

Human Factors

Human factors involves the design of technologies and work environments to be compatible with human capabilities and limitations. The graduate program in Human Factors and Applied Cognition (HFAC) provides research training in developing theories of human cognitive functions and identifying their applications to the design of systems that are safe, efficient, and pleasing to work with.

Currently, HFAC program faculty and students are directing their research and development efforts towards a number of different work domains. These include aviation and air traffic control, surface transportation, usability, supervisory control of unmanned vehicles, healthcare, military systems, and robotics. The equipment and facilities available for carrying out this work including desktop and laptop computers for behavioral testing, driving, flight, and unmanned vehicle simulators, eye trackers, physical robots, and a variety of auditory, visual, and tactile displays.

The HFAC program also provides opportunities for students to gain valuable practical experience through a variety of means. These include placing students in internships with local area institutions—in industry or government— involved in human factors research and development, involving students in industry-sponsored projects, and providing access to the many human factors professionals in the greater Washington DC area.

Applied Cognition

Applied cognition involves the study of the characteristics of basic human perception and cognitive processes relevant to human performance at work. The graduate program in Human Factors and Applied Cognition (HFAC) provides research training in understanding and developing theories of human cognitive functions. The methods used in this research include behavioral performance testing, eye tracking, and computational modeling. Neural measures can also be used in the study of cognitive processing.

Currently, HFAC program faculty and students are conducting research in a number of different areas of human cognition. These include attention, auditory cognition, cognitive aging, creativity, interruptions and multitasking, memory, social cognition, and vigilance. The equipment and facilities available for carrying out this work include desktop and laptop computers for behavioral testing, eye trackers, and software for computational modeling.

Neuroergonomics

Neuroergonomics is the study of the human brain in relation to performance at work, transportation, and other everyday settings. Neuroergonomics has two major goals: (1) To advance understanding of human brain function in relation to mental and physical processes and performance in real-world tasks; and (2) To use existing and emerging knowledge of human performance and brain function to design technologies, systems, and environments for safe, efficient, and enjoyable work. The graduate program in Human Factors and Applied Cognition (HFAC) is one of the few in the country that provides training in this new area of research.

Currently, HFAC program faculty and students are conducting neuroergonomic research in a number of areas. These include: (1) evaluating cognitive workload and executive function using brain potentials and cerebral hemodynamics; (2) monitoring and mitigating vigilance decrement using cerebral hemodynamics; (3) examining the influence of cognitive training on skill acquisition, transfer, and brain function (using MRI) in both young and older adults; and (4) investigating acceleration of skill acquisition in complex tasks using non-invasive brain stimulation. In addition, neuroergonomic researchers are also using molecular genetic methods to examine individual differences in performance in complex cognitive tasks. The equipment and facilities available for carrying out this research include structural and functional MRI, electroencephalography (EEG) and event-related potentials (ERPs), transcranial Doppler sonography (TCD), near infrared spectroscopy, transcranial Direct Current stimulation (tDCS), and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

Neuroergonomic research in the HFAC program is associated with the Center of Excellence in Neuroergonomics, Technology, and Cognition (CENTEC). This Center was started in 2010 (Raja Parasuraman, Director) with funding from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR). The major goal of the CENTEC is to help support the US Air Force mission of enhanced human effectiveness in air, space, and cyberspace operations. To ensure sustained progress in this emerging scientific field, another goal of the Center is to train graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in advanced areas of research in neuroergonomics.

 

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