The Correlation Between Biomechanical Loads and Psychophysical Ratings

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Tech

Psychophysics is defined as the scientific study of the relationship between stimuli and sensation. It has been used extensively over the last three decades for evaluation and design of manual materials handling tasks in many industries. Despite this, much is still not known about how subjective ratings, the core of the psychophysical methodology, relate to physical (biomechanical) loads. A fundamental assumption of this method is that humans are capable of estimating biomechanical and physiological loads that are placed on the body. Based on this assumption, estimates that are obtained through the methodology are used as an indicator of physical loads and stresses, and are assumed to be related to injury risk.

An experiment was performed to achieve two primary goals:1) determine the correspondence between biomechanical loads (moments at the elbow, shoulder and torso) and subjective ratings of joint loads, as well as subjectively determined maximal loads and 2) determine whether any particular joint (i.e. low back, shoulder, elbow) is the limiting factor when a subject determines a maximally acceptable load. Participants were instructed to pose in four different postures, one serving as a baseline (neutral, or 'familiar') posture, while the remaining three varied moments at the elbow, shoulder and torso. While in each of these postures, participants determined a maximum acceptable static load (MASL). Ratings of perceived exertions for specific joints were also reported, as well as whole body ratings while supporting various fractions of the MASL.

Experimental findings indicated that subject and posture effects neared significance as main effects on the magnitude of MASL. Strength was shown to be, at best, a weak predictor of MASL. Though no conclusive evidence was found to indicate that a specific joint is the limiting factor when determining maximum acceptability, trends in the data suggested that the low back and shoulder are possible candidates. Overall, the results of the study indicated that humans consider more than simple joint moments when forming perceptions of efforts and acceptability during static load handling.

Biomechanics, Manual Lifting, Psychophysics