Experimental Psychologist Career Guide

What is Experimental Psychology?

Experimental psychology, the study of behavior, brain function and the mind, is used by many different types of psychologists. Experimental psychology involves the evaluation of behavior by conducting controlled laboratory experiments to obtain information. Studies are designed and research is conducted by applying the scientific method to learn about the behavior of humans and animals. Experimental psychology seeks to answer questions like why people behave the way they do, how the personality develops, and how our behavior shapes our experiences in life.

In order to find out the answers to these and other questions, researchers use the principles of experimental psychology to construct a hypothesis. The hypothesis states a testable prediction describing what the researcher thinks the study results will show. Experimental psychologists then use experimentation to prove or disprove the hypothesis. These experiments employ the scientific method to test the hypothesis by asking an initial question, designing a study to find the answer and collecting pertinent data. When the results are analyzed, conclusions are drawn and the results of the study are disseminated to others.

What Does an Experimental Psychologist Study?

Experimental psychology delves into topics like how people pay attention, learn and remember, what motivates them, how they use their senses to perceive the world around them, and how emotions play a part in understanding. Experimental psychologists seek a correlation between two variables, like a cause and effect relationship.

Researchers may conduct an experiment with two groups, with one group receiving a treatment, and the other group, the control group, receiving no treatment. Participants must be assigned to groups randomly. Studies in experimental psychology must demonstrate reliability and validity. Reliability is consistency of results, where an experiment will get the same result when it is conducted again. Validity refers to determining if the psychological experiment rally measures what we intend it to measure.

An example of what an experimental psychologist might study is finding out if it is really better to give than to receive. This study might set out to show that people are happier when giving money to others than when they spend money on themselves. Another example of what an experimental psychologist might study would be to show that people are willing to spend more for a product they think has limited availability. In other words, if a product is hard to find or will be around for only a short while, people may be willing to pay more.

What Does an Experimental Psychologist Provide?

Experimental psychologists provide information that can be used to improve many areas of society. The insights gained from scientific research are applied to teaching and learning in schools. Information that results from studies performed by experimental psychologists can also be used to create safer transportation systems like subways, and create safer workplaces.

Knowing what motivates individuals and how they perceive the world around them can help to improve substance abuse treatment programs, keep offenders out of jail and contribute to at risk individuals becoming productive members of society. Experimental psychologists can provide information that promotes healthy child development by highlighting the way children understand their environment, learn about the world and react emotionally to family and others.

Experimental psychologists provide data from research to answer questions about human and animal behavior. They identify behavioral and emotional patterns to predict future behavior. Experimental psychologists use the information they gather to increase understanding between groups and individuals. As they conduct studies, their body of work builds and contributes to more and more important conclusions. In fact, some experimental psychologists spend their entire career devoted to finding the answer to a single complicated research question.

What is it Like to be an Experimental Psychologist?

Experimental psychologists work in a variety of settings. These research psychologists typically work a full-time schedule in research centers and universities. They may also work for a governmental agency, or for a private corporation. Experimental psychologists who work in an academic setting often publish their findings in professional journals and teach psychology courses to students.

Experimental psychologists often follow their own personal interests when designing studies. For example, some experimental psychologists are interested in cognition, how individuals acquire, process and store information. They study issues relating to attention, language and memory, and they investigate how people make decisions and solve problems. The conclusions they draw can be used to create educational curriculum or to design educational software.

What Degree Do You Need to be an Experimental Psychologist?

Most experimental psychologists need a doctoral degree in psychology, especially if they work at a university. Coursework in experimental psychology teaches students how to design research studies and conduct empirical research by means of observation and experimentation. Experimental psychology students are also taught to understand how to deal with ethical issues as they conduct their research.

A doctoral degree in experimental psychology is not necessary to work as an experimental psychologist. Other doctoral programs in psychology that offer training in experimental methodology include industrial – organizational psychology and human factors psychology. Psychologists with a master’s degree can be employed as industrial-organizational psychologists. As psychological assistants, they can work in a research setting under the supervision of a doctoral psychologist. Many master’s degree programs do not require a major in psychology at the undergraduate level, but most programs want to see the completion of courses in experimental psychology and statistics.

Psychologists are required to pass licensing exams or have certification in most states. To obtain a license, psychologists typically need hands-on training through supervised experience, a year-long internship or a residency program.

What Careers are Similar to Experimental Psychology?

Psychologist: A clinical psychologist diagnoses and treats mental and behavioral disorders, while health psychologists investigate how illness and wellness are affected by psychological factors. Neuropsychologists work with people who have sustained brain injuries. Psychologists generally need a doctoral degree and a license to practice. School psychologists need an Ed.S. degree.

Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists: Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists help people with problems deal with family relationships and find strategies that will help them manage mental disorders and live a more fulfilling lifestyle. A master’s degree is required.

Market Research Analyst: A market research analyst helps corporations understand the products consumers are willing to buy and the price they are willing to pay. They study market conditions to determine the sales potential of a service or product. A bachelor’s degree is required.

School and Career Counselor: School and career counselors guide students in making career decisions and develop the social skills they need for success. A master’s degree is required.

Personality Psychologist: Personality psychologists are concerned with the relationship between an individual’s personality and how he or she gets along with others and adapts to external and internal stresses. Nobody’s life is completely stress-free, but some people adapt better than others.

Personality psychologists can help those whose everyday functioning has been adversely affected because of a personality disorder. Behavioral and cognitive therapy are two approaches which personality psychologists use that have been found to be effective. Personality psychologists can also help businesses implement more cost effective hiring and marketing strategies.

How Much Does an Experimental Psychologist Make?

According to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median annual wage for an industrial-organizational psychologist in May, 2012 was $83,580. The median annual wage for all psychologists in May, 2012 was $69,280. The top ten percent earned over $110,880, while the lowest 10 percent earned under $38,720.

Employment for industrial-organizational psychologists is expected to increase a whopping 53 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is a much faster rate than the average for all occupations. There is a growing trend to use industrial-organizational psychologists to provide advice for hiring, increasing productivity and improving the morale of employees.

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