The human thought process is complex. It can be difficult to pinpoint why people act a certain way. Although there are often similarities among people, no two people are exactly alike.
For centuries, psychologists have been trying to discover what factors influence human behavior, personality and thoughts. Although there are different psychological theories, questions remain.
Experimental psychologists use scientific method to perform research and collect information to get a better understanding of the human mind. By understanding the human thought process, researchers can better explain and predict human behavior and in some instances influence or change behavior.
The work of experimental psychologists can benefit other areas of psychology. For example, understanding what motivates a person to behave in a certain way, such as being self-destructive, may help psychologists develop ways to treat the problem.
What is an Experimental Psychology Degree?
Although most psychologists are interested in why humans behave the way they do, experiment psychologists devote their entire work to research. An experimental psychology degree prepares students to design, conduct, analyze and present research experiments.
Experimental psychologists conduct research in controlled situations in order to understand behavior and emotions. The findings from studies can help psychologists, doctors and counselors diagnose and treat different behavioral, emotional and social disorders.
Most experimental psychology degree programs are at the master’s degree and doctorate level. Students usually are expected to prepare for a graduate or doctorate in experimental psychology by earning an undergrad degree in psychology.
In an experimental psychology degree, students can concentrate research on specific areas of interest, such as developmental psychology, neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Those with a doctorate may also become professors at universities.
Although most experimental psychology programs are at the master’s degree or higher, there are also a small number of bachelor degree programs. Since experimental bachelor degree programs are limited, a four-year degree in general psychology is also a good place to start.
Students who earn a bachelor’s degree in general psychology may be able to take electives, which focus on experimental psychology. A bachelor’s degree in psychology provides students the foundation for moving forward with additional education and training in experimental psychology. Typical courses in a bachelor’s program may include:
- Psychology of Learning and Memory: This class introduces students to the general principles of memory and learning by reviewing topics, such as information processing, memory research and problem solving. Pavlovian conditioning and other theories of learning are examined.
- Introductory to Statistics: This course provides a foundation for collecting, analyzing and interpreting data. Various topics are covered including hypothesis testing, estimation and probability theory.
- Psychology of Personality. In this course, students will develop an understanding of the various theories of personality development. The focus of the class will be on normal personality development and functioning.
- Introduction to Research: Students will learn how to develop a research project using scientific method. A variety of approaches to understanding and interpreting research data is discussed. Emphasis will also be placed on presenting research findings both in written form and through an oral presentation.
Credit Requirements: Students in an experimental psychology bachelor’s degree program are usually required to complete a minimum of 120 credits. As part of the curriculum, most four-year experimental psychology programs include some classes with accompanying labs.
Admission Requirements: Requirements for both a general psychology bachelor’s degree program and an experimental psychology program are usually the same. Applicants must have a high school diploma or a GED. Certain schools are more competitive than others, and a high school GPA of at least a 3.0 may be needed for admission into a bachelor’s degree program.
A master’s degree in experimental psychology is generally considered the minimum qualification to work in the field. Students in a graduate program will take core psychology classes, as well as research methodology classes. A master’s thesis project along with elective classes is also required. Opportunities for research are also part of a master’s in experimental psychology program. It also provides the needed foundation for students who want to continue their training and enter a doctorate program. Common courses may include:
- Observational Methods and Analysis: Every research subject is not the same, which means different techniques may be needed when conducting research. Students in an observational and methods course will identify and implement appropriate observational methods on a case by case basis.
- Developmental Psychology Research: This class helps students develop the analytical skills needed to conduct developmental psychological research studies. Non-normative and normative patterns of development during infancy and childhood will be reviewed.
- Neuropsychology: Courses in neuropsychology focus on diseases and disorders of the brain. Causes, assessment and treatment of brain damage and neuropsychological syndromes will be explored.
- Perception: Various concepts and theories of perception are explored and discussed in this course. Students will also have the opportunity to perform research and measurements of perception.
Credit Requirements: A master’s degree in experimental psychology often requires between 33 and 45 credits. Completion of research projects along with an approved thesis topic is also required for graduation.
Admission Requirements: In most cases, admission requirements include a four-year degree in psychology or experimental psychology. In some instances, a student with a degree in something other than psychology may be accepted if they have a strong background in experiential analysis. A GPA of at least a 3.2 is also usually needed to be admitted. High scores on the GRE are also helpful to get an accepted.
Many doctorate programs in experimental psychology allow students to select an area of concentration. Students already gained a foundation in experimental design and analysis at the master’s level. In a doctorate program, Ph.D. candidates can further their skills and focus on a core area of psychology, such as personality, neuroscience and social psychology. Doctorate programs in experimental psychology include research projects, along with seminars and classroom lectures. Common classes may include:
- Analysis of Behavioral Data: Once experimental psychologists conduct research, it has to be analyzed to present the results. In this class, students will develop an understanding of how to organize research and how to use different techniques for data analysis.
- Advanced Seminars in Methodology: During graduate training in a master’s degree program, students gained a foundation for designing psychological research. In this doctorate class, topics often include limitations of experimental design and implementing cost-effective research and overcoming research study obstacles.
- Physiological Psychology: Students in this course study the anatomy of the human brain, along with neural communication. The neural mechanism for emotional, cognition and mental disorders are also studied.
- Grant Writing and Research Funding: The amount of money it costs to pay for a psychological research study can vary. This class teaches students how to find research funding sources, such as corporations and universities. Information on how to complete a proposal for funding is also included.
Credit Requirements: A doctorate program in experimental psychology is challenging and often takes about five years to complete. Although exact requirements can vary, many Ph.D. programs in experimental psychology may require 64 credits to graduate. Along with classroom work, a number of credits are required that involve completing research projects. A dissertation is also required.
Admission Requirements: To gain admission to a doctorate program in experimental psychology, students must usually have a master’s degree in psychology. Usually, a certain number of classes in statistics and research need to have been completed at the graduate level. Three letters of recommendation, along with a professional goal statement is also often part of the admission requirements.
What is an Online Experimental Psychology Degree?
Although they are not numerous, there are some online degree programs in experimental psychology. There may not be a great many online programs in experimental psychology due to the time that must be spent conducting hands-on research. However, there are several online psychology bachelor’s degree programs for students who are starting their education in experimental psychology.
Online programs in experimental psychology have a curriculum similar to a traditional campus-based program. Coursework includes research design, administration of assessment and neuropsychology.
Although it can vary, most online programs in experimental psychology do not require an internship. Similar to a campus-based program, online programs at the master’s or doctorate level usually require a thesis or dissertation.
Some schools may offer a combination of an online and campus-based program in experimental psychology. Students may take online classes, but also attend in person labs. A combination program may be a great way to have flexibility while attending school, but also get hands-on experience. Combination programs integrate independent course work, along with professional activities in experimental psychology.
What Does it Take to Get an Experimental Psychology Degree?
- Problem Solving Skills: Having problems solving skills is essential for experimental psychologists. Problem solving skills refer to being able to identify the problem, generate and evaluate solutions and select the best solution to solve the problem.
- Self-Motivation: In some instances, experimental psychologists spend a lot of time analyzing and interpreting research data, which may not be a typical nine to five job. They may also work independently. Being self-motivated to stay on track is a helpful skill.
- Observational Skills: When experimental psychologists conduct research studies involving human participants, they need to pay close attention to every detail. They need to observe and analyze an individual’s actions, body language and facial expressions.
- People Skills: Although experimental psychologists are not treating patients as clinical psychologists do, they still need to have good people skills. Experimental psychologists need to work effectively with test subjects in many different situations.
What Can You Do With an Experimental Psychology Degree?
Many other branches of psychology treat patients. But experimental psychologists do not provide direct patient care. Instead, they work mostly in research or teaching. Unlike psychologists who directly treat patients, licensing to work as an experimental psychologist is not required.
Those at the bachelor’s degree level may be limited in employment opportunities. But they may find jobs as research assistants. At the master’s degree and doctorate level, graduates of an experimental psychology program can find employment as data collectors, analysts, professors and researchers for a variety of industries.
Experimental psychologists work for corporations, universities and government agencies. Opportunities are also available at private companies and health care services. Psychologists with a doctorate can also find their own funding sources and conduct research studies independently.
Some experimental psychologists decide to specialize in a specific area of research, such as abnormal psychology or addictions, which may create additional employment opportunities.
What Degrees are Similar to Experimental Psychology?
Social Psychology: A social psychology degree involves studying how people think and relate to one another. Similar to experimental psychologists, social psychologists also conduct research on why people think and behave in social situations and settings. The research findings can be beneficial in several ways, such as improving the effectiveness of company training programs.
Neuropsychology: Neuropsychologists focus on how biology and brain anatomy influence psychology and behavior. Although a degree in neuropsychology requires research and statistic classes, students also take classes in anatomy and abnormal psychology. Neuropsychologists usually must have a doctorate to work in the field. Opportunities are available to work in research and the clinical setting.
Organizational Psychology: Organizational psychologists study human behavior in the workplace. They are often employed by companies and organizations to improve the workplace. For example, organizational psychologists may develop ways to increase company morale or productivity. Master’s degree and doctorate programs are available in organizational psychology.
Forensic Psychology: A forensic psychology degree prepares graduates to provide psychological assessment within the legal system. Forensic psychologists may work in a variety of capacities. For instance, they may work as expert witnesses in courtroom testimony or diagnose and develop treatment plans for criminal offenders. A doctorate is usually required to work as a forensic psychologist.