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Paul M. Fitts (1912 – 1965) was a psychologist at Ohio State University (later at the University of Michigan). He developed a model of human movement, Fitts' Law, based on rapid, aimed movement, which went on to become one of the most highly successful and well studied mathematical models of human motion. By focusing his attention on human factors during his time as Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force, Fitts became known as one of the pioneers in improving aviation safety. Based on his analysis of errors that pilots made in reading displays and manipulating controls, Fitts argued that many of these errors could have been anticipated and avoided through improved design. This gave birth to the field of engineering psychology, that is, the application of basic research in human performance theory to the design of human-machine systems.
After WW II, Fitts took an academic position at the The Ohio State University, where he established the Aviation Psychology Research Laboratory in 1949. He latter moved to University of Michigan to collaborate with Art Melton in developing the program on Experimental Psychology and Human Performance.
Paul Fitts played a key role in drawing psychology's attention to the emerging fields of information theory and cybernetics and the relevance for modeling human performance. Fitts Law for modeling human target acquisition is an example where insights from Shannon's Information Theory are applied to modeling human performance.
In 1965 he died unexpectedly at the age of 53. However, his work and students have played an important role in shaping the fields of human factors and experimental psychology.
He was President of Division 21 (Division of Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology) of the American Psychological Association (APA), in 1957-1958. The association now has a Paul Fitts honorary award. From 1962-63 Paul M. Fitts was president of the Human Factors Ergonomics Society.
He received degrees in psychology.