Psychology of the Operator of Technical Devices

by Jan Felicjan Terelak (Author)
©2020 Monographs 202 Pages


The author of the book discusses the essence and social consequences of the postmodern era in the field of psychology of work and technology. He describes the relationship between the human being and the goals achieved through the use of technical tools, which is of interest to the industrial and engineering psychology. The second chapter provides a detailed classification of operator-machine system models: technocentric, anthropocentric, and operator–machine interface. In the third chapter, the author focuses on psychological characteristics of the operator–machine–interface system based on the example of jet plane pilot’s activity. The fourth chapter focuses on learning new operator activities and training of operator’s action in comprehensive simulators as analogues of work experience. In the fifth chapter the author examines occupational safety and reliability of the operator-machine system. In the sixth chapter, the author discusses the computer as a virtual operator serving the optimization of the quality of life.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Preface
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • 1. The operator–machine relationship as a subject of work psychology
  • 1.1 Psychology of the operator of technical devices
  • 1.2 Psychology of the operator in Poland
  • 2. Operator–machine system models
  • 2.1 Technocentric models in industrial psychology
  • 2.1.1 Perceptual aspect of operator’s activity
  • 2.2 Anthropocentric models in engineering psychology
  • 2.2.1 Operator–Machine–Environment model (OME)
  • 2.2.2 Operator–Machine–Management model (OMM)
  • 2.2.3 Operator–Machine–Interface model (OMI)
  • 3. Psychological characteristics of the operator–machine–interface (OMI) system on the example of jet plane pilot’s activity
  • 3.1 Concepts of the pilot’s role in the OMI system
  • 3.2 Visual attention in operator activity
  • 3.2.1 Role of visual attention in operator’s spatial orientation
  • 3.2.2 Oculomotor mechanism in visual attention processes
  • Examples of basic research on the role of eye movements in visual observation
  • Application research on optimization of visual information sources
  • 3.3 Psychomotor mechanisms of operator’s action and measurement thereof
  • 3.3.1 Sensomotor reactions and motor coordination
  • 3.3.2 Psychological mechanisms of motor reaction speed
  • 3.3.3 Psychological mechanisms of coordinated sensomotor movements
  • 4. Learning new operator activities
  • 4.1 Simulation of simple and complex operator tasks
  • 4.1.1 Simulators for learning simple structure sensomotor tasks
  • 4.1.2 Devices simulating operator’s physical working conditions
  • 4.2 Cognitive models of operator’s activity
  • 4.2.1 Conceptual models of operator’s activity
  • 4.2.2 Operational models of operator’s activity
  • 4.3 Training of operator’s action in variable working conditions
  • 4.3.1 Training in thermal chambers
  • 4.3.2 Training in a decompression chamber
  • 4.3.3 Training in a high-G centrifuge and a catapult
  • 4.3.4 Training of operator actions in comprehensive simulators as analogues of work experience
  • 4.4 Adapting the operator to the real working conditions
  • 5. Reliability of the operator in the operator–machine system
  • 5.1 Reliability as a technical category
  • 5.2 Reliability as a psychological category
  • 5.3 Psychological concepts of occupational safety
  • 5.4 Systematic concepts of occupational safety
  • 5.5 Psychological discriminative selection as a method of increasing reliability of the operator-machine system
  • 5.5.1 Analysis of occupations
  • 5.5.2 Analysis of a post
  • 5.5.3 Recruitment and psychological selection
  • 6. Computer as a virtual operator serving the optimization of the quality of life
  • 6.1 Virtual senses supporting the operator’s situational awareness
  • 6.1.1 Virtual electro-optical sensors
  • 6.1.2 Acoustic and radar sensors
  • 6.1.3 Biological, chemical, and radiation sensors
  • 6.2 Medical applications of a sensory platform
  • 6.3 Applications of the sensor platform – Interface in the development of high technologies optimizing the quality of work and life
  • Final thoughts
  • List of figures
  • List of table
  • Literature

1. The operator–machine relationship as a subject of work psychology

The beginning of the 21st century is an opportunity to summarize the social changes that took place at the turn of the 20th century, taking into account such aspects of social life as the culture of work, leading political systems, the development of technical civilization, etc. Similar comparisons were made at the turn of the 19th century, in which the culture-forming role of the aristocracy as the most educated social class was emphasized. The spatial orientation took into account mainly local centers of power and culture. The disappearance of feudal social relations also in agriculture initiated the creation of a new working class (manufactories, factories), characterizing this period as pre-modern. The 20th century can undoubtedly be described as modern, providing foundations for and allowing the development of the bourgeois class and mass culture, as well as national capitalism, which, internationalized by Marx’s Capital, provided the basis for the description of classical industrial production based on the “work of human hands” operating various machines, the development of which in the second half of the 20th century gave rise to the postmodern era, which resulted in a new technical civilization, referring to the intellectual capital of its creators and users, as well as to the scientific foundations of human resources organization and management (Locke, 2003). The postmodern period can be briefly described from a sociological perspective using such attributes as: fragmentation of classical social strata, global orientation of politics and economy, liberal capitalism, information society, modern bureaucracy, growth of mass culture, unlimited possibilities of social communication, fetishization of modern technologies, dictatorship of advertising and fashion, cult of ruthless rivalry, seeking impressions through chemical stimulators (medicines and drugs), excessive consumption of goods, etc. (Simons, Billig, 1994).

In the same period, the humanization of work both in the man–machine system (e.g., engineering psychology and cognitive ergonomics) (Harris, ed., 2001; Sundstrom, 2008) and in the human–organization system (Dunnette, Hough, ed., 1990–1992; Triandis, Dunnette, Hough, ed., 1994) must be noted. Without debating the essence and social consequences of the postmodern era in this book and leaving it to philosophers, sociologists, and political scientists, I refer exclusively to objective scientific achievements in the field of psychology of work and technology, which describe well the functioning of a person in a working situation, achieving his goals with the use of machines and cooperation ←13 | 14→with other people (Schultz & Schultz, 2008). These objectives include two aspects: individual (satisfaction of personal needs) and social (implementation of social tasks). The relationship between the human being and the goals achieved through the use of technical tools is of interest to the psychology of the operator and its sub-disciplines: Industrial Psychology and Engineering Psychology. From a technocentric point of view, the former dealt with the adjustment of cheap labor force to the operation of machines through qualification procedures called psychotechnics (Ackers, 2006). The latter – Industrial Psychology together with ergonomics taking the anthropocentric paradigm as its starting point, was aimed at adapting the machine to the psychophysical and mental conditions of the operator through the development of automation (Cognitive System Engineering - CSE) and robotization (Joint Computer System - JSC) (Sundstrom, 2008). Leaving aside the forecasts for the development of automation and robotization, which are aimed at increasing the attractiveness of work and reducing its inconvenience or even replacing man in his operative activity as an open issue, he draws attention to the fact that this attractiveness of work motivates to choose a specific profession and a place in the organizational structure of this profession. Thus, the attractiveness of the working environment is dealt with by Person–Environment Theory (PE) (Holland, 1997), motivation to choose a specific profession by Person–Job (PJ) theory (Edwards, 1991), and designation of a place in a specific structure of the organization of this profession by Person–Organization (PO) theory (Haslam, 2007).

It is worth recalling a brief outline of the genesis of the psychology of the operator of technical devices and the theoretical and application achievements to date, taking into account the contribution of Polish psychology, referring in detail to the rich review literature of the subject (Chmiel, ed., 2000: Carless, 2005; Kwiatkowski, Duncan, Shimmin, 2006).

1.1 Psychology of the operator of technical devices

It is not easy to establish the beginnings of the psychology of the operator as an important aspect of the classical definition of the psychology of work. Some authors provide contradictory information on this subject. For example, B. Biegeleisen-Żelazowski (1964), the precursor of this field in Poland, points to French sources, which claim that the initiator of the description of man’s activity as an operator was the Frenchman Lahy, who since 1908 worked in his first European laboratory for testing the suitability for the profession of railroader, and then a car driver. According to American sources, the world’s forerunner was a professor of psychology at Harvard Münstberg University, who in 1912 ←14 | 15→developed a battery of tests useful for the selection of candidates for tram drivers (after: Caplan, 1987).

Assuming, according to the outstanding Polish physiologist of work Z. Jethon (1976), as valid the thesis that since the appearance of the machine, regardless of its complexity, a new form of human work has emerged, requiring specific behaviors, which I call operator’s activity, I propose to call this branch of psychology the psychology of the operator.

Since work plays a very important role in achieving personal and social goals, an important skill of Homo sapiens is the use of appropriate technical tools, often very complicated to use. According to the tradition of the psychology of the operator, dating back to the first half of the 20th century, a breakdown into industrial psychology focused mainly on human–machine relations (technical object, physical work environment) and engineering (ergonomic) psychology, dealing primarily with the adaptation of the machine to human capabilities, can be adopted.

The origin of the idea of industrial psychology can be traced back to the end of the 18th century, which is connected with the industrial revolution in Great Britain and its socio-economic consequences. The development of large cities stimulating the acquisition of new sources of energy and the use of machinery (e.g., cotton-spinning machines powered first by water and then by steam, or weaving machines, etc.) contributed to the creation, alongside peasants and small craftsmen, of a new social class – contract workers, serving the dynamically developing, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, industrial production. The British Industrial Revolution, taking place in three phases: providing the driving force, function automation, and workflow control, spreading to other European countries and North America, laid the foundations for a new human activity, namely human operator’s activity aimed at achieving goals by means of machines. Although at the beginning of its development this field was promoted by American psychologists, the American Psychological Society, which was founded as early as in 1892, did not create an industrial psychology section until the Second World War – although in the 1930s several US universities lectured and trained in industrial and organizational psychology. It was not until the 1980s that the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology was established in the USA, with more than two thousand members (Zickar, 2004). Earlier, however, in 1945, along with the dynamic development of aviation technology, the first ever Fitts Human Engineering Division of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio was established in Armstrong2 Laboratory (Green, Self, ←15 | 16→Ellifritt, 1995), which to this day is the world’s leading laboratory in the field of adaptation of aviation technology, characterized by a high level of requirements on the part of the operator to operate it (e.g., the speed of modern aircrafts, exceeding several times the speed of sound, etc.) to human psychophysical capabilities. Meanwhile, in Europe, and especially in Germany and Great Britain, a greater dynamics of industrial psychology development was noted, which was undoubtedly related to the development of the arms industry in these countries after the First World War. In the UK, the National Institute of Industrial Psychology was established as early as 1921, and after the Second World War, the Industrial Productivity Committee was set up, which, stressing the importance of the role of the “human factor” in the work process, was a precursor of research for the humanization of work. However, the Occupational Psychology Section of the British Psychological Association was not established until 1971, which has been and is developing extremely dynamically (Symon, et al., 2006).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (November)
Industrial psychology Engineering psychology Operator-machine system models Occupational safety Operator-machine interface system Training
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 202 pp., 20 fig. b/w, 1 tables.

Biographical notes

Jan Felicjan Terelak (Author)

Jan Felicjan Terelak is Professor at the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University, Head of the Chair of Stress and Labor Psychology and Director of the Inter-University Psychological Laboratory. His scientific activity focuses on the problems of extreme stress psychology, aerospace, and space psychology. As a researcher, he was involved in the psychological selection of pilots flying on jet aircraft and candidates for Polish astronauts for several decades. In the conditions of natural experiment, as one of four psychologists in the 20th century, he conducted observations in Antarctica of a 20-person group of polar explorers for a period of 15 months over adaptation to tormenting social isolation from the perspective of future astronautical flights. He also conducted unique research at the space station on redistributing work and leisure time, and biorhythm disorders.


Title: Psychology of the Operator of Technical Devices
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