Fields of Psychology
The psychology department provides you with both a well rounded education and the opportunity to explore specific areas of psychology in which you have special interests. The following descriptions from APA's Careers in Psychology booklet will serve as an introduction if you are pursuing a career that require graduate education in a specialized area of psychology.
Applied Behavior Analysis
Applied behavior analysis is the science of applying what we know about how people learn to improve socially important behavior. Applied behavior analysts focus on (a) making positive changes to person’s social and physical environment to improve behavior and (b) observing and measuring behavior to document behavior change over time. Individuals trained as applied behavior analysts work in a variety of areas including education, gerontology, behavioral medicine, developmental disabilities, business and industry, and community psychology.
Clinical psychologists assess and treat people with psychological problems. They may act as therapists for people experiencing normal psychological crises (e.g., grief) or for individuals suffering from chronic psychiatric disorders. Some clinical psychologists are generalists who work with a wide variety of populations, while others work with specific groups like children, the elderly, or those with specific disorders (e.g., schizophrenia). They may be found in hospitals, community health centers, or private practice.
Cognitive psychologists investigate mental processes associated with many everyday activities from pattern recognition to complex problem solving. Some of the areas of interest are sensation & perception, attention, memory, language, problem solving, and decision making. Cognitive processes are often applied to other fields of psychology such as developmental, social, education, and clinical psychology. Cognitive psychologists are typically employed in academic settings.
Community psychologists are concerned with everyday behavior in natural settings the home, the neighborhood, and the workplace. They seek to understand the factors that contribute to normal and abnormal behavior in these settings. They also work to promote health and prevent disorder.
Counseling psychologists do many of the same things that clinical psychologists do. However, counseling psychologists tend to focus more on persons with adjustment problems, rather than on persons suffering from severe psychological disorders. Counseling psychologists are employed in academic settings, community mental health centers, and private practice. Recent research tends to indicate that training in counseling and clinical psychology are very similar.
Psychologists who work in the area of developmental disabilities use psychological assessments and interventions to improve the lives of children and adults with autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disability (formerly called "mental retardation"), and other conditions. Common psychological activities in this area include assessment to identify (a) a diagnosis, (b) skill deficits (e.g., communication), and (c) the causes of problem behavior (e.g., self-injury). In addition to assessment, psychologists develop comprehensive intervention plans to teach individuals with disabilities important skills and reduce problem behavior so they can live as happily and independently as possible. Psychologists in this area are typically trained in applied behavior analysis or clinical psychology.
Developmental psychologists study how we develop intellectually, socially, emotionally, and morally during our lifespan. Some focus on just one period of life (e.g., childhood or adolescence). Developmental psychologists usually do research and teach in academic settings, but many act as consultants to day care centers, schools, or social service agencies.
Educational psychologists are concerned with the study of human learning. They attempt to understand the basic aspects of learning and then develop materials and strategies for enhancing the learning process. For example, an educational psychologist might study reading and develop a new technique for teaching reading from the results of the research.
Evolutionary psychology is a field that uses evolutionary theory to understand behavior and the design of the brains and minds of humans and other animals. Closely related to Comparative Psychology, evolutionary psychology is an approach, or way of thinking that can be applied to any topic within psychology, such as perception, learning, development, social, and so forth.
This area of specialization includes a diverse group of psychologists who do research in the most basic areas of psychology (e.g., learning, memory, attention, cognition, sensation, perception, motivation, and language). Sometimes their research is conducted with animals instead of humans. Most are faculty members at colleges and universities.
Environmental psychologists are concerned with the relations between psychological processes and physical environments ranging from homes and offices to urban areas and regions. Environmental psychologists may do research on attitudes toward different environments, personal space, or the effects on productivity of different office designs.
Industrial/Organizational (I/O) psychologists are primarily concerned with the relationships between people and their work environments. They may develop new ways to increase productivity or be involved in personnel selection. You can find l/O psychologists in businesses, industry, government agencies, and colleges and universities. I/O psychologists are probably the most highly paid psychologists.
Neuroscience, Biopsychology and Psychobiology
Neuroscientists (a newer term for Biopsychologists and Psychobiologists) investigate brain- behavior relationships. Beginning a Decade of the Brain (1990-2000), neuroscience is a huge and growing research area to which psychologists contribute. These psychologists study both very basic processes (e.g., how brain cells function), sensory systems, memory, and more observable phenomena such as behavior change as a function of drug use. Some continue their education in clinical areas and work with people who have neurological problems.
Psychometrics and Quantitative Psychology
Psychometric and quantitative psychologists are concerned with the methods and techniques used to acquire and apply psychological knowledge. A psychometrist revises old intelligence, personality, and aptitude tests and devises new ones. Quantitative psychologists assist researchers in psychology or other fields to design experiments or interpret their results. Psychometrists and quantitative psychologists are often employed in colleges and universities, testing companies, private research firms, and government agencies.
Rehabilitation psychologists work with people who have suffered physical deprivation or loss at birth or during later development as a result of damage or deterioration of function (e.g., resulting from a stroke). They help people overcome both the psychological and situational barriers to effective functioning in the world. They work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, medical schools, and in government rehabilitation agencies.
School psychologists are involved in the development of children in educational settings. They are typically involved in the assessment of children and the recommendation of actions to facilitate students' learning. They often act as consultants to parents and administrators to optimize the learning environments of specific students.
Social psychologists study how our beliefs, feelings, and behaviors are affected by other persons. Some of the topics of interest to social psychologists are attitudes, aggression, prejudice, love, and interpersonal attraction. Most social psychologists are on the faculty of colleges and universities, but an increasing number are being hired by hospitals, federal agencies, and businesses to perform applied research.
Health psychologists are concerned with psychology's contributions to the promotion and maintenance of good health and the prevention and treatment of illness. They may design and conduct programs to help individuals stop smoking, lose weight, manage stress, prevent cavities, or stay physically fit. They are employed is available in hospitals, medical schools, rehabilitation centers, public health agencies, and in private practice.
Family psychologists are concerned with the prevention of family conflict, the treatment of marital and family problems, and the maintenance of normal family functioning. They design and conduct programs for marital enrichment, premarital preparation, and improved parent-child relations. They also conduct research on topics such as child abuse, family communications patterns, and the effects of divorce and remarriage. Family psychologists are often employed in medical schools, hospitals, community agencies, and in private practice.
Psychology and the Law and Forensic Psychology
Psychology and the law studies legal issues from a psychological perspective (e.g., how juries decide cases) and psychological questions in a legal context (e.g., how jurors assign blame or responsibility for a crime). Forensic psychologists are concerned with the applied and clinical facets of the law such as determining a defendant's competence to stand trial or if an accident victim has suffered physical or neurological damage. Jobs in these areas are in law schools, research organizations, community mental health agencies, and correctional institutions.
Psychology of Women
The psychology of women is the study of psychological and social factors affecting women's development and behavior. The field includes the study of stereotypes about women, the relation of hormones to behavior, women's achievements in science and mathematics, the development of gender roles and identity, sexuality, psychological problems of women, and sexual abuse of women and girls. Psychologists focusing on the psychology of women are found in academic settings and a variety of clinical settings.
Last Updated: May 25, 2015