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Cognitive ergonomics: it's all in the mind

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In this paper a distinction is made between classical ergonomics as dealing with the quality of working and cognitive ergonomics as dealing with the quality of work including the joint system products. It is argued that classical ergonomics can be seen as embracing a dualism, where the effects of work on the body are considered separately from the effects of work on the mind. This continues the mechanistic tradition of Western psychology. The aim of cognitive ergonomics is to describe (1) how work affects the mind, as well as (2) how the mind affects work. Work is all in the mind in the sense that the quality of work depends on the person's understanding of the situation (goals, means, constraints) and in the sense that the design of a worksystem depends on the designer's understanding, in particular the conceptualization of the people in the system. In cognitive ergonomics, the reliability of performance- and in particular the reliability of cognition- become central issues. The differences between classical and cognitive ergonomics are illustrated by considering two typical areas: risks at work and human-computer interaction. It is concluded that classical and cognitive ergonomics represent two complementary views of work that must be combined to meet the challenges of present day work environments.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 1997

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