Studies in Personnel and Industrial Psychology

By Edwin A. Fleishman | Go to book overview

61. A Program of Human Engineering*

Leonard C. Mead

HUMAN ENGINEERING problems seem to arise whenever man is confronted with technological advancements. Perhaps the primitive cave dweller would have profited if his tools and weapons had been shaped and weighted so as to fit his psychophysiological capacities. The need for such modifications, however, does not seem to have been very pressing; it resembles giving Aristotle a telephone. Not until the machine age was well advanced in the 19th century did anyone do any systematic worrying about the fact that man was actually the weak sister in mechanized production. The time-study work of Taylor in the 80's, followed by the motion-study contribution of the Gilbreths, represent the first organized attempts to make a man a more efficient partner in the modern industrial scene.

During this same period the notion was being developed in the new field of psychology that individuals are constituted differently and that some people are naturally better suited than others for particular types of jobs. The mental testing movement led to the development of intelligence and aptitude tests. World War I gave both impetus and status to personnel selection. Thus, during the early decades of the 20th century we find both engineers and psychologists attempting to adapt human beings to the demands of a technological society.

Meanwhile another group of scientists, the experimental psychologists, were developing their field by the discovery of new facts and techniques concerning man's sensory and perceptual processes. It was a long time before this group became enmeshed in the practical problems of matching man with the technical appurtenances of his civilization. In fact, the leading experimentalists took pride in divorcing themselves from the applied aspects of their research and a number of psychological publications made the point that this psychology must remain "pure." The stress of a World War II, however, brought this group of specialists into the human engineering field. Early in the war it was observed that the potentialities of modern weapons and equipment, despite superior engineering achievements, were not yielding the performance that their advanced design seemed to merit. It was recognized, too late in many instances, that the human operator remained as an essential link in military

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*
From Personnel Psychology, Vol. 1, 1948, pp. 303-17.

-581-

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