Introducing APA Divisions: Division 21

Division 21 leaders provide an overview of applied experimental and engineering psychology.

By Peter Hancock, Patricia DeLucia, and Joel S. Warm

From Left: Division 21's previous president Peter Hancock, current president Patricia DeLucia, and president-elect Joel Warm

There are many divisions within the American Psychological Association (APA) and many associations for research and clinical psychology around the world, which begs the question: what is Division 21 of the APA and what might it be able to do for you? The central focus of Division 21 is on applied experimental and engineering psychology. The two themes are not synonymous, and so they deserve a little further explanation in and of themselves.

Applied psychology is a rather broad concept. It primarily involves the use of results from both experimental and clinical psychology to effect practical solutions to real world problems. This might include issues ranging from the training of personnel for high-level skills to advances in therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, to name just two examples. Clearly, the applications embraced by Division 21 overlap to a significant extent with other divisions and central themes of APA.

The focus of Division 21 is further sharpened in its second theme, engineering psychology. For those who are not familiar with the term, this might seem a somewhat strange marriage of disciplines. Often related to terms such as human factors, ergonomics, and the historical study of man-machine systems in general, engineering psychology seeks to understand human performance in the realm of technological applications Thus, research in aviation and flight-deck design has been a long-term theme of engineering psychology. Indeed, it is an arguable case that our field originated from the need for pilots to fly newly-designed military planes during the tumult of the second world war. However, engineering psychology includes much more. It includes the development and application of psychological principles, knowledge, and research to improve technology, consumer products, energy systems, communication and information, transportation, health care, decision-making, work settings, and living environments. Thus, we look to study and embrace almost all of the contexts in which humans work.

Applied experimental and engineering psychology has made many innovations that improve safety and well-being. A classic contribution is the design of the center high-mounted rear brake light, now standard on all passenger vehicles. More recent contributions include programs to reduce medical error by improving designs of new medical equipment and facilitating communication among healthcare professionals. We thus address many working contexts and have recently begun to look at the application of principles and knowledge to activities of a leisure and sports context. There is a great deal of room under our collective umbrella, and we welcome new and diverse contributions from new and diverse members. We are a proud sponsor of the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Human Systems Integration on which several of our members serve and have served, and we enthusiastically sponsor the Florida Student Conference held in Daytona, Florida each year. We are always looking for ways to promote engineering psychology in its broadest context.

The nuclear meltdown at Three-Mile Island is on of many disasters that is often referenced and analyzed by Division 21Division 21 is also concerned with design. Unfortunate disasters that appear with distressing regularity around the world provide aspiration to apply the lessons learned from these events by design. This requires that we know much about human behavior and how the technological context of behavior influences an individual's response. Thus, our role in the system design process is to ensure that human psychological, physiological, and performance characteristics are addressed (see "Human error or designer error?"). Division 21 has a valued history of more than seven decades of achievement and is constantly searching for ways to improve service to our members and to the wider research community who meet together across the disciplines of neuroscience, human-computer interaction, technological design, socio-technical systems operations, safety, and contextual performance in advanced technical environments. Hopefully, you might be among those individuals who feel they fit within this broad category of humans and technology, and you will come and join us in our efforts to improve the quality of all human life. If you are not, we wish you well. But if you are, we wish you welcome.

Set Phasers on Stun: and Other True Tales of Design, Technology, and Human Error, by Steven Casey is one of the more popular texts representing applied experimental and engineering psychologyDivision 21 provides a variety of benefits. Our annual scientific and technical program at the APA convention presents state-of -the-art research on current and emerging issues. The meeting provides opportunities to meet and network with premier scholars in small informal settings. Our Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied is the top publication in the field of applied experimental and engineering psychology and is distributed to all members. Each year we award a prize for the best paper in the journal. Other awards include a dissertation award, an early career award, and an outstanding career award. We provide a mentorship program for those who seek guidance on developing a successful career. Our listserv and website provide timely and valuable information such as job openings, funding announcements, and other events in the field. We especially encourage members to participate in the governance of the division and in important decisions that impact our field and the community at large. In short, our welcome extends to students, new scholars, and experienced scholars from all parts of the world—to you. To join Division 21, please complete the membership application form
About the Authors:

Peter Hancock works in the Department of Psychology and the Institute for Simulation and Training at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He is Division 21’s immediate past president. Patricia DeLucia is Division 21’s current president and works in the Psychology Department at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. Joel Warm is a Senior Scientist at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, as well as Division 21’s president-elect.