How to Become an Experimental Psychologist – 2023 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 an Experimental Psychologist Do?

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.

Related: What Can You Do With an Experimental Psychology Degree

Why Do We Need Experimental Psychologists?

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 also 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 are the Requirements to Become an Experimental Psychologist?

Educational Requirements

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.

It is necessary to 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

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.

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:

Licensure Information

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.

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?

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.

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?

As of October 2022, according to ZipRecruiter experimental psychologists on average earn $93,013 per year. Experimental psychologists in the top bracket on average earn $211,000 per year.

Experimental psychologists working in Nebraska, New York and California earn the highest average annual salary of $125,496, $110,147 and $104,039 respectively.

In general, 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.

What Careers are Similar to Experimental Psychology?

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.

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