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Cognitive ergonomics studies cognition in work settings, in order to optimize human well-being and system performance. It is a subset of the larger field of human factors and ergonomics.



Cognitive ergonomics the cognitive engineering is an emerging branch of ergonomics that places particular emphasis on the analysis of cognitive processes – e.g., diagnosis, decision making and planning – required of operators in modern industries. Cognitive ergonomics aim to enhance performance of cognitive tasks by means of several interventions, including:

  • user-centered design of human-machine interaction and human-computer interaction (HCI);
  • design of information technology systems that support cognitive tasks (e.g., cognitive artifacts);
  • development of training programs;
  • work redesign to manage cognitive workload and increase human reliability.


Successful, ergonomic interventions in the area of cognitive tasks require a thorough understanding, not only of the demands of the work situation, but also of user strategies in performing cognitive tasks and of limitations in human cognition. In some cases, the artifacts or tools used to carry out a task may impose their own constraints and limitations (e.g., navigating through a large number of GUI screens); in fact tools co-determine the very nature of the task. In this sense, the analysis of cognitive tasks should examine both the interaction of users with their work setting and the user interaction with artifacts or tools; the latter is very important as modern artifacts (e.g., control panels, software, expert systems) become increasingly sophisticated. Emphasis lies on how to design human-machine interfaces and cognitive artifacts so that human performance is sustained in work environments where information may be unreliable, events may be difficult to predict, multiple simultaneous goals may be in conflict, and performance may be time constrained. Typical domains of application include process control rooms (chemical plants, air traffic), command and control centers, operating theaters and other supervisory control systems. Other types of situations, familiar but variable, are also considered as they entail performance of cognitive tasks: e.g. video recording, using an in-car GPS navigation system, etc. Approaches used include:

  • Cognitive Systems Engineering
  • Francophone Ergonomics

Relation to other disciplines

Cognitive ergonomics draws from or is related to:

nuclear plantation

Related fields


  • Long, J. 1987, Cognitive ergonomics and human-computer interaction, in P. Warr (ed.), Psychology at Work (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, UK: Penguin).
  • Marmaras, N. and Kontogiannis, T. (2001). Cognitive tasks. In: G. Salvendy (eds), Handbook of Industrial Engineering, (pp. 1013-1040). 3rd Edition, Wiley.


Peer-reviewed publications

Suggested readings

  • Vicente, K. J. (1999). Cognitive Work Analysis: Toward safe, productive, and healthy computer based work. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Norman, D. A. (1993). Things that Make Us Smart. New York: Addison Wesley Company.
  • Hutchins, E. (1995). Cognition in the Wild. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Hollnagel, E. (2003) (Ed.), Handbook of cognitive task design. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Kirlik, A. (2006) (Ed.). Adaptive perspectives on human-technology interaction: Methods and models for human-computer interaction and cognitive engineering. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Durso, F.T., Nickerson, R.T., Dumais, S.T., Lewandowsky, S., & Perfect, T.J. (2007) (Eds.). Handbook of applied cognition. New York, NY: Wiley.
  • Giannini,AJ & Giannini JN (1999) Cognitive workload and the organization of mental space. In Jacobs,K (Ed.) Ergonomics for Therapists: Second Edition. Boston: Butterworth, Heinemann.

ISBN 0-7506-7051-7.



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