Biological Psychology Careers

What is Biological Psychology?

Biological psychology, also referred to as biopsychology, is the study of human behaviors. More specifically, it studies the physiological causes of behavior (how thought processes affect behavior). Basically, it examines the link and relationship between the human mind and body. The goal of this branch of psychology is to understand, for instance, why a person, who recently lost a leg, can still feel sensation in the place where the leg used to reside. It also focuses on learning how internal and external stimuli affect nervous system functioning (i.e. emotions and cognitive processes). Are you interested in learning more? If so, keep reading to find the answers to your questions.

What Does a Biological Psychologist Do?

Biological psychologists are responsible for the following job duties:

  • Exploring issues of human sensitivity (i.e. thought processes, learning capabilities, sensory actions, and perceptions)
  • Conducting research studies (animal and humans), in an effort to develop methods that improve health and well-being
  • Supervising research studies that focus on brain functions
  • Researching the “causes and effects” of brain injuries and mental illnesses
  • Examining the link between hormonal changes and various mental health conditions
  • Studying stimuli that can result in psychological distress (in people and animals)
  • Developing research studies that explore the evolution of the brain, the interactions between various bodily systems (including the brain), and possible causes of human and animal motivation
  • Teaching psychology courses at colleges and universities
  • Conducting animal researches studies to identify the effects of drugs on behavior
  • Effectively completing tasks in a fast-paced environment

Some biological psychologists help businesses, agencies, and organizations better understand the various consumer bases. Occasionally, biological psychologists work at: parks, aquariums, and zoos. However, the brunt of these mental health professionals, work as research psychologists. They spend the majority of their time conducting, supervising, and performing biology-related research studies with animal and human participants. These professionals take accurate and clear notes, and report research results to others.

Where Does a Biological Psychologist Work?

Most biological psychologists seek employment at colleges and universities, as college psychology professors, they also spend a significant amount of time working in research laboratories and health organizations like the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet, some biological psychologists work in hospitals, clinics, and skilled nursing facilities and others work in drug and alcohol treatment facilities or at pharmaceutical companies.

Why is Biological Psychology Important?

Biological psychology is one of the only fields of psychology that looks at thoughts and behaviors as a result of genetics and human physiology. By looking at behaviors in this way, there is the potential to unlock underlying physical reasons for problem thoughts or behaviors and, ultimately, provide possible areas for physical and medical treatment to support the psychological treatment.

Biological psychology studies show how humans differ from other species as well as looking at traits that are inherited – both of these provide a unique insight into possible reasons for a patient’s actions. In addition, human physiology – including the study of the nervous system and hormones – can provide physical areas for treatment. Looking at physiological systems from a psychological  perspective, rather than a medical perspective, offers a unique and interesting insight. Researchers in this area also provide an interesting insight into how behaviors affect the brain.

What is the Job Outlook for Biological Psychology?

Biological psychology jobs in the pharmaceutical industry may experience the highest number of jobs, while jobs in hospitals, clinics, government agencies and educational institutions, may also experience positive growth. The higher education one has, the more opportunities he or she will experience. Also, jobs in urban and city areas will be higher than those in rural areas. These increases can stem from the need for psychologists to analyze the effects of certain medications on the human mind (i.e. development and stability).

More specifically, as people age, the need for biological psychologists can be strong to help those individuals manage and cope with age-related health conditions like dementia and Alzheimer disorder and the effects of the medications used to treat them. Lastly, societies and communities may need biological psychologists in the future to explore childhood psychological disorders, and discover the causes of certain pediatric mental illnesses. Ultimately, as more people take control of their lives and health, the need for biological psychologists may rise.

How Much Does a Biological Psychologist Make?

According to Simply Hired, biological psychologists can expect to make approximately $68,000, per year, on average, depending on the location, experience, licensure, training, expertise, and industry (April 2015 data). Biological psychologists with a Ph.D., a license, and prior experience tend to make the highest salaries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychologists, in general, can expect to make approximately $69,000, per year, on average.

What are the Educational Requirements to Become a Biological Psychologist?

Most biological psychologists have doctoral degrees in psychology. To become a biological psychologist, one must earn an undergraduate degree in a field of his or her choice. If possible, he or she should seek a bachelor’s degree in a psychology field. Although it is not required to earn an undergraduate degree in psychology, it will provide a sound foundation for further study in the field. Once the student has graduated with a bachelor’s degree, he or she will be ready to enroll in a graduate/master’s level psychology program. At this level, students are required to choose a discipline (i.e. animal testing, neuroscience, etc.). This program focuses on the developmental changes in the brain, and the brain’s response/reaction to stress and trauma.

Graduate students are also required to complete an extensive research paper (thesis), and complete an approved clinical internship at a mental health facility, hospital, clinic, research lab, or government agency. At the doctoral level, students will be required to develop a book-like research study and paper (dissertation) on a biological psychology topic. They will also be required to complete a longer internship (i.e. 6 month or 1 year) at an approved, supervised internship in a mental health facility or research lab.

Courses may include: memory processes, research methods, abnormal psychology, lifespan development, hormonal changes, biorhythms, statistics, and pharmacology treatments. It normally takes approximately 4 years to earn a bachelor’s degree, two or three years to earn a master’s degree in psychology and between 3 and 7 years to earn a Ph.D. in the field. It is important to note that an undergraduate or graduate student cannot call himself or herself a “psychologist” until he or she has earned a Ph.D. in the field. Also, most, if not all, states require psychologists to have a license to practice independently.

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