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Yulia Bessonova on the Most ‘Human’ Science

Ergonomics, animal therapy, and psychology of the future
01.08.2021
Yulia Bessonova on the Most ‘Human’ Science

A human is a complex and interesting living creature. Even the smallest detail of people’s environment can affect their mood, ability to work, and psychological state. Modern science has a number of areas that study the factors that can make people’s life and work more comfortable and safe. The Global Women Media journalists interviewed Yulia Bessonova, researcher at the Institute of Psychology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) and expert in the field of labour psychology, ergonomics, engineering, and organisational psychology.

Юлия-Бессонова_0T2.jpg Yulia Bessonova
PhD in Psychology, researcher at the Laboratory of Labour Psychology, Ergonomics, Engineering, and Organisational Psychology at the Institute of Psychology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS)

Ms. Bessonova has been a researcher at the Institute of Psychology of RAS for almost 20 years. Her occupation is very broad and interesting. Yulia Bessonova researches the factors that help make a person’s work comfortable and psychologically safe even in extreme conditions. 

In her student years, the expert had the opportunity to work in a rescue squad. That experience still echoes in her professional activity. As a specialist in the field of labour psychology, ergonomics, and engineering psychology, Yulia Bessonova focuses her attention on extreme types of activity. As a psychologist, she has worked with operators of nuclear power stations, employees of locomotive crews, oil refineries, and chemical plants.

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– The area of science you work in is very broad. Could you tell us, what in general affects a person’s psychological state in extreme or normal working conditions? 

– A huge number of factors influence that. To create comfortable and safe working conditions it is necessary to take into account the ergonomics of the workplace, the atmosphere within the team, the personal characteristics of each employee, his or her psychological state, and many other aspects. 

Labour psychology is closely linked to ergonomics. This concept presupposes something more than just providing people with physiological comfort. 

Ergonomics is developing at the intersection of technical and psychological sciences. In psychology, ergonomics is understood both as a scientific discipline and as a property of products, workplaces, or technical tools. As a scientific discipline, ergonomics studies the characteristics of human interaction with technical means. It deals with the convenience of using programmes and equipment, the employee’s ability to work, and his or her psychological and physiological abilities in job performance. All those aspects influence the efficiency and productivity of work greatly. 

Today, there is one popular ergonomic trend called ‘usability’ while the assessment of product ergonomics. This concept means the convenience and attractiveness of a technical system, technical tool, or software product. In today’s world, the interaction with technical means is an important part of not only working and production process but also our daily life. The concept of usability is being discussed increasingly often. 

Ergonomics is developing rapidly and becoming an increasingly vast area for research. Today, we can mention already about eight different specialities in the field of ergonomics. 

Work will be effective only when employees feel full physical and psychological comfort. That’s especially important in extreme types of activity. A comfortable environment at all levels can contribute positively to a person’s emotional state, minimize sources of stress, and even motivate to achieving better results.

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– You have another very interesting hobby. You are researching and practising dancing and communicating with dogs as psychotherapy means. How do these methods work? 

– A psychologist is an expert having many different methods of working with people and helping them professionally. Canis therapy is one of my favourite methods. This is a psychotherapeutic method used for medical or social rehabilitation through human interaction with animals, in particular dogs. 

Canis therapy has been actively developed and used in practice for several years in Russia. 

A lot of research proved the effectiveness of this therapy for children and adults with disabilities and socio-psychological problems. 

For example, if the child does not communicate with adults for some reason, using the dog as a kind of mediator makes it possible to establish that chain of communication. This greatly simplifies the process of psychotherapeutic consultation. It is already possible to draw conclusions from the way the person interacts with the animal important for further therapy and to outline ways of addressing the problems.

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– Are any breeds of dogs suitable for such a therapy? Are specially trained animals needed? 

– There are two basic types of canis therapy: directed and non-directed. 

Interaction with any domestic dog is suitable for non-directed therapy. In this case, the animal acts as a friend who can provide some emotional support and reduce the stress level. It is very important for people to feel that they have someone beside them who loves them unconditionally and waits for them at home. You can tell your pet about your problems or just hug it in a moment of fatigue. Do not underestimate this kind of communication. It is very effective and has a positive impact on people’s psychological state. 

Directed canis therapy is a specially constructed psychotherapeutic work, in which specially selected and trained animals are used. 

Such a therapy presupposes using very disciplined dogs that will never show aggression, no matter what the patient does. 

Such dogs are fully controllable. They are trained to perform a number of special commands and have exceptional skills. For example, when working with patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, we use dogs knowing the pose of a ‘barrier’ between a person and a potentially dangerous society. This pose is used when the animal reads the body signals of a person and identifies signs of anxiety. That is just one of many examples of the skills that canis therapy dogs have. 

Many other types of animal therapy have also proven to be effective. I find it great that people and animals can be useful to each other. The main thing is that our pets remain full participants of these interactions and never become objects that people use to their own advantage.

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– It is incredible how multifaceted and broad modern psychology is. What do you find most interesting in this science? 

– It is difficult for me to single out one or several especially interesting fields of psychology. Today, there are a huge number of them. If you depict the development of the fields of psychology schematically, the picture will resemble a tree, on which more and more branches appear. 

A human is an amazing and very complex living being. The more we learn about people, the more questions arise that are interesting to explore. 

People change and psychology as a science changes with them. It adapts to the demands of society, to the realities of the world. Everything that surrounds us necessarily influences us. Any science about people must consider that.

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– According to you, psychology is always adapting to the demands of society. How will this science change in the future? 

– As an expert, I believe that several trends of future development have already been outlined. At the end of the 19th century, psychology tried to correspond to the criteria of the exact sciences and was based on the exact calculations and mechanistic picture of human mental processes. However, the situation has changed. New directions of humanistic, cognitive, social, engineering, and other branches of psychology have emerged since the mid-20th century. One of the modern trends lies in the expansion of psychology’s subject of study and research at the intersection of sciences. 

Psychology cannot be based fully on exact formulas and calculations. Attention to the human personality with all its specific views and beliefs is the core element of this science. 

Another trend in the development of psychology, in my opinion, lies in a certain shift of focus. A few decades ago, all major research was dedicated to the study of negative psychological processes: stress, fatigue, and various disorders and mental diseases. Today, people pay increasingly much attention to positive states.

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Happiness is not only the absence of sadness. Health is not only the absence of disease. Modern scientists understand that the study of positive states is no less important than the study of negative ones. 

There is a shift in scientific interest from disease to health, from non-normality to normality. In my opinion, this is a more humanistic, more human-focused approach that the world really needs. 

Finally, let me share my personal observation. I believe that science used to be a more male-dominated field of activity not so long ago. It was managed based on men’s points of view, principles and rules. Over time, more and more women began to come into science bringing their views and new approaches to it. I think that this is a positive trend for sustainable development. 

In science, as in any field of activity, it is important to look at an object from a different perspective and consider different points of view. That makes the work of the team more effective and contributes to better and greater results. Women’s thinking is different from men’s because our brains process information differently. That is why we can look at things from a broader perspective and expand the field of research in cooperation with men. I think that the future of science lies in cooperation. 

Photos by Natalia Deingel 

Viktoria Yezhova, Global Women Media news agency

Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov


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