ARCHIVED - Mind in Matter: Behavioural Science across NRC
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March 05, 2005— Ottawa, Ontario
The National Research Council (NRC) pursues research in fields spanning many different scientific and engineering domains. Perhaps less well known is work carried out in the area of behavioural sciences, which has found important applications in fields such as information technology, construction, aerospace and neurosciences. NRC set out to correct this and, to mark National Psychology Month, organized a series of lectures throughout February entitled Mind in Matter: Behavioural Sciences at NRC. Five different NRC research institutes were involved.
Like many developments in science and technology, this attention on human behavioural issues has responded to a need. In this case, there has and continues to be a need to understand the relationship between technology and the users of that technology. Put another way, aerospace is not just about planes, construction is not just about bricks and mortar and information technology is about more than wires, transistors and software. All of these fields involve real people with observable behaviour and cognitive capabilities that have a major impact on how these technologies are used. There is also growing recognition that a complete understanding of behaviour and cognition must embrace research in psychology as well physiology and the very real physical changes that occur in the brain.
Over the course of the month, NRC researchers have reported on their research. Consider some of the following examples.
Mind in Matter: Behavioural Sciences at NRC
For this month's NRC Highlights, we have produced a set of stories on each of the different lectures. We hope you enjoy reading the articles on each seminar on the series.
As a security manager, you have insisted that employees regularly change their passwords and use "strong" combinations numbers and symbols (**/&+#!) of at least 6-8 characters long. But, here's where the problems start – humans simply have problems remembering more than 8 (plus or minus 2) pieces of information. And, besides, humans are much better are remembering the gist of something rather than the exact meaning. A set of random numbers, letters and characters is difficult to memorize, so, to make sure they are not locked out from the system (a social stigma), users write down their passwords and leave them where they can be easily found, creating a security risk in the process. NRC privacy and security researchers are using behavioural and cognitive research to help build more effective and user friendly security systems.
NRC researchers are also helping build a better office cubicle, something that comic-book anti-hero Dilbert would be proud to call home. But, it's about a lot more than the funnies. Think productivity, increased worker satisfaction and safety. This particular study brought together expertise from a broad number of fields, such as acoustics, lighting, indoor air quality and office design. It involved the use of numerous research techniques, such as employee questionnaires, measuring light levels and other physical parameters, computer simulations, and experimenting and testing office designs in a controlled environment.
The use of multiple research methods is one of defining characteristics of researchers involved in behavioural sciences at NRC. Researchers have found that, to find the optimal solution, they have to combine many different techniques and principles from different fields. While NRC already offers a very multi-disciplinary approach to research, nowhere is this more evident than in these projects.
"With this kind of work, engineers are forced to understand the needs and capabilities of users as well as the technology and it becomes an incredibly multi-disciplinary effort to build the right tool," explains Sion Jennings, a research officer at the NRC Institute for Aerospace Research. "While the engineers understand the science and technology, they can use input from psychology and medicine to understand the human needs and in the end produce a better product."
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