What is the Difference Between Applied Psychology and Experimental Psychology?

Last Updated: June 29, 2024

Applied Psychology Vs Experimental Psychology

Applied psychology uses psychological principles to solve real-world problems, such as improving work productivity or treating mental health issues. On the other hand, experimental psychology studies human behavior through controlled experiments in a lab, contributing to the development of theories that can later be applied in practical settings.

Psychology is a vast field of study with a lot of branches and specialties, but you’d be hard-pressed to find two branches of psychology more different than applied psychology and experimental psychology. And yet, strangely, they depend upon each other, so they’re complementary opposites rather than antagonists.

Experimental psychology contains very little applied psychology, because most experimental psychologists spend virtually all their time conducting research experiments rather than applying research to real-life situations.

Applied Psychology

Applied psychology puts the theories and principles of psychology to practical and tangible use in the everyday world. Theoretical or experimental psychology, on the other hand, concerns itself mainly with the development of ideas, theories and principles, leaving the practical applications of those theories to the applied psychologists.

Applied psychology isn’t really a separate branch of psychology, because nearly every branch of psychology has practical applications that provide immediate, tangible benefits. But some branches expend most of their time and resources on research and theoretical considerations, so they aren’t considered branches of applied psychology.

Here are some of the common branches where psychologists heavily emphasize applied psychology:

Counseling psychologists spend most of their time counseling their patients, offering patients the tangible benefits of improved mental health. Yes, counselors have to keep abreast of the findings of the latest psychological research so that they can apply those findings in their therapy sessions, but counselors typically perform little or none of that research themselves. Most counseling psychologists work for themselves in a private practice, so they’re beholden to no one except their clients.

Clinical psychologists also spend a lot of time with patients, but most of them work for a hospital, university or a private institution, which means that many of them also teach or perform research part-time, so clinical psychologists aren’t as immersed in applied psychology as counseling psychologists.

Industrial and organization psychologists apply psychology in the workplace, thereby improving the health, performance, efficiency and morale of workers and improving the bottom line for employers. Occupational health psychology, a relatively new field, is similar in its application.

School psychologists apply the principles of psychology in the educational system, helping kids adapt to the demands, pressures and conflicts in schools, and helping kids with learning disorders.

Sport psychologists aid athletes in maximizing their abilities by helping them overcome the stresses, pressures and expectations rampant in professional sports.

Experimental Psychology

Experimental psychologists study behavior and the mind, conducting scientific experiments and research on both humans and animals. They study a great number of topics, such as memory, cognition, sensation, perception, motivation, learning, emotions, developmental processes, the effects of substance abuse, and genetic factors that affect behavior.

Most experimental psychologists work in colleges, universities, governmental research facilities or private research facilities. Many who work in colleges or universities split their time between teaching and research.

Related Reading: How to Become an Experimental Psychologist

While all branches of psychology perform at least some research, experimental psychology is almost exclusively a research field, and the research psychologists perform is generally more abstract, theoretical and experimental than in other fields of psychology.

Researchers are usually free to gamble on more imaginative lines of research than in other fields, which is more likely to produce little or no concrete results but is also more likely to produce revolutionary results.

Experimental psychology is interdependent with the applied psychology fields mentioned above, as well as with other applied sciences from other fields. Experimental psychology feeds the applied sciences with the raw data and theories they require, and the applied sciences in turn indirectly feed (mostly through government grants) experimental psychology with the funding they need for their research.

Experimental psychologists therefore need to make sure the results of at least some of their research can eventually lead to practical value, or their funding will eventually dry up. Therefore, researchers need to keep current with the needs of the applied sciences and tailor their research to those needs.

Specialty Areas of Experimental Psychology

Not all experimental psychologists hold a graduate degree in experimental psychology. Some hold a graduate degree in a different specialty area and research that specialty area almost exclusively.

Some specialty areas of psychology perform a lot of research and therefore lend themselves well to experimental psychologists who want to specialize. The following three specialty areas mostly concern themselves with research and might be considered specialty areas of experimental psychology:

Developmental psychology is the study of human development, primarily from birth to age twenty-one. Developmental psychologists concern themselves with the growth and development of various aspects of the mind, body and emotions, including speech, motor skills, moral understanding, problem-solving, identity formation, social adjustment, knowledge acquisition, etc.

Cognitive psychology is the study of thought processes that affect behavior, like memory, perception, problem-solving, decision-making, creativity, thinking, language use, etc. The main focus here is upon understanding how people acquire, process and store information.

Social psychology is the study of how people’s feelings, thoughts and behavior are affected by social situations and conditioning. Social psychologists study how external factors like persuasion, propaganda, peer pressure, television, advertising, interpersonal attraction and conformity influence our opinions, attitudes and behavior.

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