Cognitive Psychology and Sociology Impact

Cognitive Psychology and Sociology Impact

According to Hewett et al. (2009) Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) “is a discipline concerned with the design, evaluation and implementation of interactive computing systems for human use and with the study of major phenomena surrounding them”. The beginnings of HCI can be traced back to the 1970’s when the study of  software psychology began to develop rapidly as the idea that the way to design better software was to take a behavioral approach to understanding design, programming, and the use of interactive systems.

Over the past few decades, the study of HCI has developed rapidly. The arrival of the personal computer can, quite possibly, be attributed with the increased interest in the psychological aspects of designing software, hardware, and computer interfaces. Over the past several years, the approach and focus of HCI has changed with the demands of the users. This is partly due to the ever changing ways in which computers and interactive devices are put to use. According to Rauterberg (2006), “In the 80s, HCI was investigating media rich computing with the paradigm of networked computer mediated interaction. Interactive multimedia was the focus of attention. More recently, at the turn of the century, HCI was about the social computing paradigm with community mediated interaction”. As society becomes more connected through the use of computers, mobile, devices, and the internet, HCI design paradigms also evolve and change with the needs of the user.

Since the earliest experiments with interface design during World War II when man-machine modeling and human-factors engineering came into being, interface design has become increasingly complex. One thing that remains constant is the goal of improving the overall usability of systems whether they are computerized or mechanical. As user demands become more complex along with technology, the integration of psychological methodologies into interface design is becoming increasingly important.

During the early periods of systems and software development, the idea of user centered design was largely ignored. After the emergence of the personal computer in the late 1970’s and its continuous growth during the 1980’s, viewpoints shifted drastically. According to Carroll (1997), “People began to distinguish sharply between technologies driven exploratory development, which is now often accompanied by explicit disclaimers about usability, and “real” system development, in which empirically verified usability is the final arbiter”.

The Impact of Cognitive Psychology on Human Computer Interaction

To understand how cognitive studies have impacted HCI, a basic understanding of cognitive sciences, more specifically cognitive psychology, must be obtained. Cognitive psychology can be traced back to the end of the 19th century experiments into sensations. The modern view of cognitive psychology is that it is a branch of psychology that focuses on the study of mental processes. These processes include how people think, perceive, remember, and learn about things. In interface design, many aspects of cognitive psychology must be taken into consideration. Some of these aspects include perception, attention, performance, imagery, memorization, retrieval, problem solving, reasoning, and decision making. These and many more cognitive processes must be considered when designing interfaces.

The study of interface interaction has been around since World War II when equipment designers began to focus on the human factors of design operability. The fusion of human factors and cognitive psychology over time led to the development of design engineering, ergonomics, and human interface performance. Over time, “Cognitive psychologists have concentrated on the learning of systems, the transfer of that learning, the mental representation of systems by humans, and human performance on such systems” (Hewett et al. 2009). In recent years, cognitive psychology has become primarily focused on the human aspect of information processing.

According to Card, Moran & Newell (1983), “People who interact with computer extensively build up a repertoire of efficient, smooth, learned behaviors for carrying out their routine communicative activities. Yet, the interaction is also intensely cognitive”. This could be contributed to the fact that many processes that people engage in on a computer require the ability to process, analyze, and make decisions based on the task at hand. Some examples of this include word processing, database work, spreadsheet data entry, and even playing games.

The Impact of Sociology on Human Computer Interaction

Over time, the impact of sociological factors on HCI has changed. In the early years of HCI, interface design was primarily focused on the individual. Through the past several decades and the advent of the internet, social paradigms in computer interactions have changed. From a widely disconnected, individual based group of computer users, the growth of interconnectedness has increased exponentially. Because of the explosive growth of interconnectedness and the new ways in which computers and devices are employed, the demands of the end users has changed, and so too does the focus of HCI.

The impact of sociological methods in regards to HCI research has become increasingly prevalent in recent years. The idea that user activities are not limited to the individual alone, but to the influence of the groups with which they are in contact. The most influential group influence since the late 1980’s is the internet. The rapid growth of the internet as a communications medium, business tool, and recreational outlet has spawned the demand for improved usability in web sites, computers, and connected devices. Because of the interconnectedness of the internet, HCI researchers have begun to draw upon sociological studies as a means to understand interactions with technology from a group perspective.

As a result of the integration of sociological research methods, a sub-field of HCI has emerged known as Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). According to Dourish (1999), “CSCW’s inherent interest in the work of groups rather than (or, as a context for) individuals meant that it was, naturally, interested in the use of sociological approaches to study collaborative and organizational behavior. There have been two primary domains for the uptake of ideas from sociology: methods and theory”. The methods employed are mainly ones that focus on the work of individuals and groups.

The main sociological field of study that the CSCW has borrowed from is Ethnography. Ethnography is the study of culture through the perspective of one that is part of the culture in review, also sometimes referred to as the “insider’s point of view”. The goal of this methodology is to gain insight not only on what people do, but what they experience in doing it. The CSCW has used this methodology as a tool to develop a means for field work such as gathering requirements for systems design.

One of the theoretical aspects of sociology and HCI is called Ethnomethodology, “an approach to understanding social action that centrally explores the practical reasoning by which individuals engage in concerted activity; that is, it is primarily concerned the ‘ethno-methods’ by which action is organized and interpreted” (Dourish, 1999). Because Ethnomethodology primary focus is on the understanding of the activities that of people and what those people actually do, it has been easily adapted and used in HCI research.

Another aspect of HCI to consider with regards to sociology, are interfaces designed for group interaction, or crowd computing. According to Brown, O’Hara, Kindberg, and Williams (1999), “The evidence from social psychology and sociology suggest that the social dynamics and behaviors of crowds are distinct from those of smaller group formations”. In recent years interest in crowd based media has become more prevalent as ways to engage crowds are being researched. One example of crowd based interaction is that of a simple trivia game that can be found in some sports bars and restaurants. The game is displayed on a large screen television and accessible by anyone in attendance that has a remote device to select answers. The devices might be a specialized remote control, or in some of the most recent versions, a mobile phone. This is an example of a crowd based interactive system in which not only a local “crowd” of participants can interact, but it is sometimes also networked to span multiple locations simultaneously forming a sort of macro-crowd.

Along with the entertainment value that crowd computing can provide, there is another, more functional aspect to the idea of crowd computing that makes it so attractive. Due to the increasing spread of smartphones and digital devices that allow people to remain connected at all times, the idea of crowd computing is becoming more popular. Today’s smartphones are, for all intents and purposes, mini-computers. Most equipped with high speed processors, location detection, and high speed network capabilities. These features allow the opportunity to create ad-hoc networks in which data can be shared, manipulated, and collected. According to Murray, Yoneki, Crowcroft & Hand (2010), “Previous work has shown that people will voluntarily contribute their desktop computer resources for running scientific workloads. We could imagine a similar application for mobile devices that provides free content or functionality in exchange for volunteered cycles.”

Many companies are already employing applications in which crowd computing is at play. Systems such as Yelp, Google, and to an extent Facebook are all examples of crowd based computing. These are all examples of distributed human interaction tasks via online networking. For example, many qualitative classification tasks are much easier for humans than computers, such as “What is the best Sushi restaurant in San Francisco?” By combining this model with crowd computing, it would be possible to exploit geographic locality in the respondents to (Murray, Yoneki, Crowcroft & Hand 2010).


Both psychology and sociology have played, and continue to play, important roles in the growth and development human-computer interaction studies. In HCI, the needs and demands of the population of users are in a state of continuous change. As a result, the understanding of both the psychological and sociological demands and needs must be factored into HCI.

As our technology and systems expand and become increasingly robust, so too does our need for ways to access, process, and analyze data from these systems. In the past, interactivity with systems has often been limited by what our technology will allow us to produce. With the advance of our technology and interconnectedness through social networking, the internet, smartphones, and digital devices, the further integration and merging of sociological and psychological methodologies into the design of interfaces will be important.


Card, S. K., Moran, T. P., & Newell, A. (1983). The psychology of human-computer interaction. CRC.

Carroll , J. (1997). Human-computer interaction: psychology as a science of design. Unpublished manuscript, Computer Science Department and Center for Human-Computer Interaction, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061-0106 USA. Retrieved from

Carroll, J. (2001, November 16). The evolution of human-computer interaction. Retrieved from

Hewett, Baecker, Card, Carey, Gasen, Mantei, Perlman, Strong and Verplank. (2009, July 29). Acm sigchi curricula for human-computer interaction. Retrieved from

Rauterberg, M. (2006). From personal to cultural computing: how to assess a cultural experience . Informally published manuscript, Department of Industrial Design, Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, The Netherlands. Retrieved from

Dourish, P. (1999). Embodied interaction: Exploring the foundations of a new approach to hci. Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, Retrieved from

Brown, B., O’Hara, K., Kindberg, T., & Williams, A. (2009). Crowd computer interaction. In Proceedings of the 27th international conference extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems , Retrieved from

Oren, M. (2011). Human-computer interaction and sociological insight: A theoretical examination and experiment in building affinity in small groups. (Master’s thesis, Iowa State University)Retrieved from

Murray, D., Yoneki, E., Crowcroft, J., & Hand, S. (2010).The case for crowd computing. Informally published manuscript, Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom. Retrieved from