There is a close link between the field of human-computer interaction – which happens to be one of the highest-paying master’s degrees – and psychology. After all, it’s difficult to work to improve interactions between humans and computer technology unless you have a strong grasp of how humans think, communicate and process information. In your career, the concepts and practices of psychology will help you achieve your goal of making interactions between computers and their human users better. As you study the field of human-computer interaction, you may benefit from having an undergraduate background in studying psychology.
The Connection Between Human-Computer Interaction and Psychology
Psychology is the scientific study pertaining to the mind, thought and behavior. The principles of psychology, and particularly cognitive psychology and cognitive science, are a crucial part of the human-computer interaction field. In fact, the journal Annual Review of Psychology refers to HCI as both the field of “psychology as a science of design” and “the region of intersection” between the disciplines of psychology and computer science.
The branch of psychology that specifically has to do with the field of HCI is sometimes called human factors psychology or engineering psychology, according to the American Psychological Association. Engineering psychologists and human factors psychologists may work in research, studying encounters between humans and computers, or in the practice of collaborating with consumer product designers. The work that psychologists in this area of study perform is important because it contributes to the development of computer systems and other technologies that better align with how human users think, learn and communicate. This, in turn, produces more effective and efficient technologies and better usability outcomes.
In the fields of human factors psychology, engineering psychology and psychology in general, there is an emphasis on understanding the processes involved in thinking and behavior. This underlying focus is what allows the field of human-computer interaction to evolve. Without the study of psychology, professionals in computer science, engineering and design could only guess how human users would react to technological interfaces and processes. Even once they observed how interactions progress, they likely wouldn’t understand the reasons behind these reactions. It takes knowledge of the way human cognition works to make consistent strides in improving how well technology fits human thought processes.
While a psychologist with training in this area of focus could work in HCI, most human-computer interaction professionals aren’t licensed psychologists but instead designers, developers, engineers, consultants and researchers.
The Benefits of Majoring in Psychology for HCI Graduate Students
If you decide to study psychology as an undergraduate student, you will get an early start to understanding the foundations of the field that informs the human side of human-computer interactions. Many bachelor’s degree programs in psychology will introduce students to a variety of topics in the field. Research is one area of focus, and most students will take at least a couple of classes pertaining to research methods and statistics. Students can often choose lower-level and upper-level psychology courses that fit their interests. If you’re interested in the field of human-computer interactions, you might consider choosing classes in cognitive development, cyberpsychology and developmental psychology. Other coursework common in psychology bachelor’s degree programs includes abnormal psychology, personality, social psychology and more. Many undergraduate psychology degree programs include an internship opportunity that allows students to put their knowledge of psychology concepts and practices into action in some capacity, whether that be research, counseling, business or technology.
You don’t have to major in psychology to develop a strong enough foundation on which to begin your graduate studies in human-computer interaction. In fact, you don’t need any specific major to get accepted into most master’s degree programs in human-computer interaction. Many students who plan to go to graduate school for HCI will instead major in an area like computer science or engineering to help them develop the technical skills for computer design and development. Even if a psychology major isn’t right for you, it’s still a good idea to take a few courses in the subject to complement your technical aptitudes. You may even be able to minor in psychology by taking a sequence of courses that consist of as few as five classes.
Don’t feel like you will be out of place majoring in psychology just because you’re not planning to become a psychologist. You will be in good company, since it’s only a small proportion of psychology majors that become licensed psychologists.