Human factors and folk models


This paper presents a discussion of the susceptibility of human factors to the use of folk models. The case of automation-induced complacency is used as a guiding example to illustrate how folk models (1) substitute one label for another rather than decomposing a large construct into more measurable specifics; (2) are immune to falsification and so resist the most important scientific quality check; and (3) easily get overgeneralised to situations they were never meant to speak about. We then discuss the link between models and measurements, where the model constrains what can be measured by describing what is essential performance, and where the model’s parameters become the basis for specifying the measurements. We propose that one way forward for human factors is to de-emphasize the focus on inferred and uncertain states of the mind, and shift to characteristics of human performance instead.

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Correspondence to Erik Hollnagel.

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Dekker, S., Hollnagel, E. Human factors and folk models. Cogn Tech Work 6, 79–86 (2004).

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  • Model
  • Mind
  • Cognition
  • Human factors
  • Explanation
  • Falsification