Cognitive and Physiological Ergonomics

  Employee controls a robot arm using a portable control panel Copyright: © Mario Irrmischer  

As a branch of work science, ergonomics deals with the optimal adaptation of the technical equipment, applications and the working environment to the needs of the people working there. The goal is to maintain workers health and at the same time support efficient and error-free production. Two basic areas of ergonomics can be distinguished: physiological ergonomics, which deals with the design and adaptation of work environments, and cognitive ergonomics, which considers the mental processes such as perception, attention and information processing.

Various methods are available to test the effects of ergonomic design on the workers physical and cognitive strain. There are subjective methods, such as questionnaires. Psychophysiological reactions can be measured to help determine the user's individual stress level. For example, physical stress can be detected using electrocardiographic and electromyographic signals. Camera or marker-based systems can also be used for this purpose. In the context of cognitive ergonomics, systems specializing in eye tracking are useful, since eye movement and pupil data can provide conclusions about cognitive processes. These evaluations make an important contribution to the ergonomic orientation of future workplaces and products.

New forms of cooperation between humans, technology and the work environment make it imperative to consider the physical and cognitive conditions of humans as components of the work system and to optimally align work equipment and workplaces in order to adapt them to the respective individual needs, skills and abilities. Questions of physiological and cognitive ergonomics are therefore becoming increasingly important and represent a research focus of “Ergonomie und Mensch-Maschine-Systeme” (Ergonomics and Human-Machine Systems Department) of the IAW – Institut für Arbeitswissenschaft (Institute of Industrial Engineering and Ergonomics).