How to Become an Experimental Psychologist

What is an Experimental Psychologist

The knowledge of the human brain will never be complete: it may be hard to come to terms with, but the brain is such a complex organ that we may never know exactly how it works. Luckily, there is a branch of psychology that will continue to pry into the unknown depths of the human brain. This branch is called experimental psychology.

Experimental psychologists study human and animal subjects in order to delve into the brain’s mystery. These experimental psychologists are hoping to unlock the secrets of some of humanity’s unique virtues such as emotion, memory, perception and many more intangible qualities. No one can see into the brain in order to understand why a person acts the way he/she does – the best we can do is experiment in a controlled way to try to gain some insight into the thinking process.

Most experimental psychologists, research psychologists, and survey researchers work at colleges, universities, research labs, and governmental agencies. These psychologists also study the behaviors of animals like: pigeons, monkeys, cows, birds, and rats. Moreover, they typically focus on psychological areas like: attention, motivation, thought processes, learning abilities, memory retention, sensory, perceptual processes, substance abuse effects, and genetic/neurological factors. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015), some experimental psychologists work as survey researchers, who create surveys, and analyze the data.

This branch of psychology is for those who want to uncover the mysteries of the human brain, such as motivation, attention and cognition. One on one therapy is not generally going to be in the cards for someone that has chosen to specialize in experimental psychology – so if a treatment based career is something the student is interested in, a different specialization is suggested. Experimental psychology students learn how create experiments in order to glean information from their subjects.

Related: What Can You Do With an Experimental Psychology Degree

Why Do We Need Experimental Psychologists?

So, why are experimental psychologists so important? Because they focus on a wide-range of psychological topics (i.e. thought processes and human/animal behaviors). These psychologist use evidence-based methods to collect data, and conduct research studies.

The results of these studies help pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies produce medications, assistive devices, amd medical equipment that make the lives of people and animals better. In other words, the experiments that these psychologists perform help make lives easier and more comfortable. More specifically, experimental psychologists aid in the happiness of everyone. They also help the medical community (i.e. nurses, doctors, technicians, etc.) improve their practices, and learn more about health conditions that are not fully understood. And, as a result of experimental psychologists, medical conditions are recognized, and treatments (or better treatments) are developed for them. Experimental psychologists also explore learning disabilities, developmental delay, cognitive processes, psychological conditions, and mental illnesses.

We need experimental psychologists because they help people (and the world) evolve. These psychologists help prompt the creation of better, and more effective products and medications. They also teach people more about illnesses, health conditions, thought processes, and behaviors, so that we can all live happier and healthy lives.

Some experimental psychologists also teach students how to perform research studies based on animal behaviors, cognitive processes, personalities, genetics, and neuroscience. These students are taught how to use quantitative and qualitative research methods to answer important research questions and dilemmas.

What are the Requirements to Become an Experimental Psychologist?

Education Requirements

This profession is on the cutting edge, but like any psychologist, a Ph.D. is normally required before starting down the path of experimental psychology. Years of coursework followed by years of practical internships all stand in the way of becoming an experimental psychologist, but it is more than possible with the right path.

It is necessary obtain a bachelor’s degree in order to pursue a profession in experimental psychology. A bachelor’s degree in psychology is ideal, although any degree is acceptable as long as a student can gain entry to a graduate school with the chosen major. A degree with some coursework in mathematics or philosophy could both be helpful in the long run while working in experimental psychology.

Once the B.A. is completed, a graduate school must be chosen.  It is hard to choose a school –it is important to do research when choosing where to pursue a doctoral degree, especially when the career goal is in such a thrilling field. You can enroll in either research focused Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy in psychology) or practice focused Psy.D. (doctor of psychology) program. A doctoral dissertation is required for all Ph.D. programs and most Psy.D. programs. A doctoral program in experimental psychology may provide training in following areas:

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Pharmacology
  • Cognition
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Sensation and Perception
  • Social Psychology
  • Health Psychology
  • Research Methodology
  • Statistics

You can also pursue a Master of Arts or Master of Science degree (M.A. or M.S.) in experimental psychology, after completing your bachelor’s degree. However, career opportunities in this highly competitive field of psychology will be limited with a master’s degree. A graduate experimental psychology program may provide training in following areas:

The experimental psychologist is at the forefront of the science and often presents at professional conferences. This is a great way to network as well as keep on the cutting edge of psychology.

How to Enroll in a Graduate Program?

  • Talk to professors: Do not hesitate to question professors about where they obtained their advanced degree. It is an easy way to get started. Professors can also give you some leads as to which universities have programs specializing in experimental psychology.
  • Search the internet: Find out which schools have reputations for experimental psychology. Scour the web to find out which institutions are leading the way in terms of research in experimental psychology. These schools will have attracted the best professors, and will give the students a better chance at participating in research with these leaders in the field.
  • Talk to admissions counselors: After talking to professors and researching the web, make a list of potential schools that have a reputation for experimental psychology. Call or visit the schools if possible to talk to personnel in admissions or to department staff. They can offer information to give you an edge on the competition – how to frame a personal statement, what GRE scores they are looking for, who should be writing letters of recommendation.

Licensure Hours

To become a fully licensed, an experimental psychologist must eventually complete 3,000 supervised hours of practice. However, requirements may vary from state to state. Graduated doctoral students generally gain these hours through a combination of internships, research positions and entry level positions.


It can be hard for any psychology candidate to find an internship – it might be doubly so for a person interested in experimental psychology. In order to complete an advanced degree, a student must complete an internship. To do this, the student chooses and ranks potential internships using The student must interview with the agencies, and hope that they win the internship. There are more students than internships, so some do inevitably end up waiting until the next year for the process to repeat.

What Skills are Required for an Experimental Psychologist?

The role of an experimental psychologist requires a skill set that is a little different to other psychologist roles. The main skills needed are:

  • Problem Solving Abilities – an experimental psychologist needs to be able to assess a problem or theory and develop a scientifically sound way to test a hypothesis. They need to be able to see an issue clearly and consider it from many different angles to produce the most effective testing.
  • Dedicated – the tests and experiments of an experimental psychologist can last for many weeks or even months. A psychologist in this field is also likely to have an area of specialty that they perform research in throughout their careers. They must be able to remain dedicated and focused to the current experiment to ensure it runs smoothly for its full duration.
  • Inquisitive – experimental psychologists need to be naturally inquisitive people. Consider areas such as human behavior, they often look closely at details that many other people take for granted and ask questions about the most fundamental of issues.
  • Detail Orientated – developing a scientifically sound experiment requires close attention to detail as well as the ability to think through several possible outcomes to ensure the testing is comprehensive. While running the test, experimental psychologists also need to make sure that protocols are followed extremely closely.
  • Organized – to run successful experiments, individuals have to be organized. Being able to anticipate problems and plan for several outcomes means proactively rather than reactively, means that an experiment has the best chance at providing a useful and credible outcome.

Where Does an Experimental Psychologist Work?

Most experimental psychologists will be working in research – testing out theories that their superiors have designed.  Each experiment must be reviewed by a body called the Institutional Review Board to make sure that the psychological experiments will not violate ethical codes or the law. They also ensure that the humans and animals being used in these experiments will not suffer any harm.

With enough experience, the recent graduates will eventually become the superiors and may run their own experiments. Some may even end up working for the Institutional Review Board.

Experimental psychologists generally work in the following environments:

  • Colleges and Universities
  • Consulting and private research firms
  • Government research groups
  • Government and Private businesses
  • War veterans and disaster post-traumatic counseling

What is the Salary for an Experimental Psychologist?

The experimental psychologist falls under the broader terms of psychologist, since he is mainly involved in research. The average psychologist earns a median salary of $68,640, though that can vary greatly by position.

The salary depends on what type of organization employs the experimental psychologist – there are private research institutes as well as universities that may have a bigger budget.

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