Dr. Neville A. Stanton

Engineering Psychologist

Dr. Neville A. Stanton holds a bachelor’s degree in Occupational Psychology from Hull University and a master’s degree in Applied Psychology and a PhD in Human Factors from Aston University.

He is currently a professor of Human Factors and Ergonomics at the University of Southampton and a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and a Fellow of The Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors and a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology.

He is also an accomplished author who has been published in more than 150 international journals in addition to 14 books on Human Factors and Ergonomics. His work has included helping organizations design new human-machine interfaces, assessing of human reliability in high risk systems, evaluation of control room interfaces and product design.

Dr. Stanton is also an editor of Ergonomics and on the editorial board of Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science and the International Journal of Human Computer Interaction. 

What is it that led you to pursue a career in engineering psychology?

I began my professional career in retail management with no thoughts of Engineering Psychology. As part of the management training, we attended workshops presented by organizational and occupational psychologists. I became interested in the application of psychology to work and started attending evening classes at the local college in my spare time. This led me to apply for an undergraduate degree in Occupational Psychology. Whilst studying for my degree I found Engineering Psychology to be really fascinating: the idea that we could design the world to improve the human condition resonated with me and gave me a purpose in life. The first ever book I read on Engineering Psychology as an undergraduate was Hywel Murrell’s “Men and Machines”. My undergraduate tutor ran one-on-one tutorials for anyone who wanted them, and together we went through each chapter at successive meetings. I realized I had found a subject that would sustain me for the rest of my life. The area captivates my interest even more the longer I spend in it.

Can you describe for us a bit about what you actually do as an engineering psychologist?

I work as a University Professor and as an independent consultant. In my University role I teach people Human Factors Methods (from my book on the subject) and supervisor postgraduates and manage research projects in the design of future flight decks, studies of road vehicle automation, design of interfaces for hybrid and electric vehicles, design of traffic control centers, and so on. Much of this work is about analyzing and understanding people’s use and abuse of technology. A better understanding leads us to new design insights which inform the underlying theories and methods. As an independent consult I often advise organisations on their Human Factors safety cases, help them understand the human aspects of risk assessment and investigate human error in accidents to discover the underlying causes. My latest book on Human Factors Methods is due out in 2013:

Stanton, N. A., Salmon, P. M., Rafferty, L. A., Walker, G. H., Baber, C. & Jenkins, D. (2013) Human Factors Methods: A Practical Guide for Engineering and Design – second edition. Ashgate: Aldershot.

Can you give us examples of interesting ways that engineering psychology is being used?

Every technological project is touched in some way by Engineering Psychology. It is used in design of all technological environments where people are expected to work. Examples in transport include design of new technology features in automobiles, cockpits in aircraft, ship’s bridges, and locomotive cabs. The application is far more extensive however, to include all aspects of systems in aviation, chemical, energy production and distribution, defence, manufacturing, maritime, medicine, nuclear, oil and gas, rail, and security. Coverage includes: personnel competencies, training systems, development of procedures, analysis of communications, workload, automation, supervision, shift patterns, human-machine interface design, human error analysis and prediction, and safety culture. I was involved in the design of the driver interface for a Stop-and-Go technology for Jaguar cars, where we demonstrated the advantage of my design over that proposed by the engineers. This is reported in the following article:

Stanton, N. A., Dunoyer, A. and Leatherland, A. (2011) Detection of new in-path targets by drivers using Stop & Go Adaptive Cruise Control, Applied Ergonomics, 42 (4), 592-601.

Do you have a favorite project thus far in your career that you have especially enjoyed working on?

I have worked on lots of projects over the past twenty five years that have proved enjoyable, so it is difficult to highlight just one. I worked on the introduction of Adaptive Cruise Control into Jaguar cars, who where the first manufacturer to implement the system. My role was to help design and test the user interface and understand driver’s likely reactions to the system. I was also part of the team looking into methods for predicting pilot error in flight deck design for modern computerized flight decks. This work led to The Royal Aeronautical Society awarding us the Hodgson Medal and Bronze Award for our work on flight deck safety. Perhaps the biggest single challenge for me was acting as an expert witness in the civil litigation that followed the Ladbroke Grove rail accident. It was an extremely interesting project, which required every aspect of my research skills that I had acquired to understand and explain the activities of the signaller in the control room on that fateful day. This particular work has led to two journal publications:

Stanton, N. A. and Baber, C. (2008) Modelling of alarm handling responses times: A case of the Ladbroke Grove rail accident in the UK. Ergonomics , 51 (4) 423-440.

Stanton, N. A. and Walker, G. H. (2011) Exploring the psychological factors involved in the Ladbroke Grove rail accident. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 43 (3), 1117-1127.

What kind of background is best to have in order to pursue this career field?

A background in Psychology and Engineering is ideal. Most people either come from Engineering and learn Psychology or vice versa. I was formally trained as a Psychologist and have learnt about Engineering along the way (having an interest from childhood).

What kind of job market is available right now for engineering psychologists? Where does an engineering psychologist tend to find work?

The job market is very good from the point of view that there is something of a bottleneck in the training of Engineering Psychology at the postgraduate level. An Engineering Psychologist finds work in any of the application domains I have mentioned previously, such as: aviation, chemical, energy production and distribution, defense, manufacturing, maritime, medicine, nuclear, oil and gas, rail, and security.

Are there hurdles that a student that is studying engineering psychology should expect to encounter along the way in this career field?

Although the subject has been around for at least 60 years, we still encounter some resistance to Engineering Psychology when trying to work with engineers and technologists. Not everyone is enlightened to the value that it can add to the process of system design. My own work has shown somewhere between 25-75 percent process improvement to project over and above traditional engineering processes. Yet there are still segments of industry that have yet to be convinced. This will be overcome in time, and I am busy teaching the next generation of Engineers the value of Engineering Psychology at my University, so we will get there eventually.

Can you offer any advice to students who are currently pursuing this career path?

In my opinion a doctoral level qualification is preferable due to the complexity of the subject matter. This means getting a good first degree in either Psychology and/or Engineering and then finding a suitable academic to supervise your doctorate. At my University we run an Engineering Doctorate with industry that requires students to focus on industrial problems and work in the application domain to develop experience and expertise.

Is there anything important that we didn’t cover that you think people ought to know before trying to become an engineering psychologist?

First of all, find an application domain that you most enjoy – you will be good at it if you enjoy it. Second, don’t be afraid to go and speak to the gurus in your field. Mostly, they will be only too happy to talk to you. Third, don’t be put off if someone says that your idea cannot be done. Often they just fail to see how it can be done, and anything worthwhile will require tenacity and determination. These are all lessons I have learnt the hard way.