Human Factors Engineering

Another field which applies the findings of experimental sensory psychologists is called human-factors engineering. People who design complicated instrument panels (for example, in jet cockpits or nuclear reactors) must have an understanding of what kinds of stimuli will elicit attention, what will be irritating, and what will fade unnoticed into the background. Using knowledge of how sound is transmitted and how the human brain perceives sound, human-factors engineers have designed police and ambulance sirens which make one type of sound while the vehicle is moving quickly (the air-raid-type wailing sound) and another while the vehicle is moving slowly, as through a crowded intersection (alternating pulses of different pitches). These two types of sounds maximize the likelihood that the siren will be noticed in the different environmental settings. Research by human-factors engineers has also prompted many communities to change the color of fire engines from red to yellow; because red is difficult to see in twilight and darkness, and bright yellow can be seen well at all times of day, yellow makes a better warning color.

Research by human-factors engineers and environmental psychologists is also used to improve commercial products and other aspects of day-to-day living, answering questions such as, How loud should the music be in a dentist's waiting office? What color packaging will attract the most buyers to a product? How much salt does a potato chip need? How much light is necessary to maximize production in a factory? Will noise in a domed stadium cause damage to fans? Research on sensation and perception is applied in almost every setting imaginable.

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