The Difference between Physical Ergonomics, Cognitive Ergonomics, and Macroergonomics

December 14, 2020

What is the difference between physical ergonomics, cognitive ergonomics, and macroergonomics?

To answer this question, we need to examine the dual nature of the field, which is both a science and a profession. Ergonomics as a scientific discipline is concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system. As a profession, ergonomists apply theories, principles, data, and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.

Physical ergonomics is mainly interested in the body, cognitive ergonomics the brain, and macroergonomics the system and culture.

Physical ergonomics focuses on injury prevention through design and evaluation of workplaces, including postures, manual tasks, and repetitive movements. In addition to reducing injuries, physical ergonomics also focuses on how to increase productivity and reduce quality issues and error. It examines the ways in which people’s bodies interact with the tools they use on a daily basis.

Cognitive ergonomics is mainly associated with brain functions in the context of accident investigation or error analysis, human-machine interaction, mental workload, decision making, usability and design, and training. In a nutshell, cognitive ergonomics is concerned with human performance within a system in terms of performance quality. It examines the mind’s ability to process information and interact with data.

Macroergonomics is focused on the design of work systems and organization-system interactions. It is a scientific discipline, “… that concentrates on designing overall work systems by providing the knowledge and methods necessary for the improvement of work systems and, thus, developing the effectiveness and performance of companies” (Hendricks, 1996). It examines ways to optimize entire workplaces.

The field of ergonomics is not “one size fits all” and forming a solid understanding of the various types of ergonomics will prove highly beneficial to anyone with an interest in the field.

If you would like to learn more about ergonomics, you can check out our online Human Factors and Ergonomics Continuing Education Program, which includes courses on: