Cognitive Systems Engineering

Cognitive Systems Engineering


Studying cognitive work as it is done in field settings enables developers to design and produce systems that match operator needs, how they think, and how they organize and structure information. For training, many products emphasize advantages of their visual execution.  While colors and icons on the interface look real, the operator does not necessarily have a better understanding of how to interpret the information displayed on it.


ARA has led thinking in systems and human performance research for decades:

  • Recognition Primed Decision Making (RPD) Model
  • Data/Frame Model of Sense-Making
  • Team Sense-Making
  • Anticipatory Thinking and the Detection of Weak Signals
  • Management by Discovery
  • Insights vs. Errors
  • Causal Reasoning
  • PreMortem Method
  • Macrocognition; Macrocognitive Measures

Our methods enable us to create effective results for our customers through two major initiatives. 

Cognitive Analyses and Sense-Making Studies

Understand user cognition, work practices to develop decision support.

Field studies enable us to understand work as it is actually done and provide authentic foundation for systems to support individual and team decisions in high risk work settings.

Resilience engineering explores how to improve the adaptive capacity of organizations that are faced with substantial unforeseen challenges.

Tools such as the Experiential User Guide (EUG) reveal cognitive work. The EUG uses vignettes to illustrate learning challenges—examples of how software can be used successfully, limitations, boundary conditions, and the common errors made by users—and trains operators to use intelligent software tools that pose real cognitive challenges. The result is deepened understanding and an accelerated learning curve so users can fully exploit tools at their command.


Improve decision skills. Accelerate expertise improvement.

The difference in our approach is the development of training that has high cognitive authenticity. It emulates the features that an expert would perceive in a particular domain to support an actual perceptual and decision-making process (e.g., the sound of gunfire, or the sight of smoke). The situation incorporates more cognitively authentic cues and allows training developers to simulate authentic tasks within an appropriate context

Applied Cognition

Cognitive Solutions

Our cognitive capabilities combined with our expertise in the physical sciences allow us to develop solutions that enhance the performance of... more