Psychology is the study of thought. While anyone can theorize about why people think or act the way they do, it is experimental psychology that allows us to develop scientific conclusions about the human mind.
What Does an Experimental Psychologist Do?
Although many psychologists work with patients, experimental psychologists have a tendency toward research. After all, experimental psychology is grounded in the scientific method, which means that tests and analysis are critical to furthering the profession. An experimental psychologist may design and implement studies, conducting research to test psychological hypotheses. While the areas of research vary, many are focused on topics such as perception, learning, motivation and more. In some cases, experimental psychologists may be looking for cures or treatments for various psychological issues. Other experimental psychologists may try to identify reasons behind certain thought processes or behaviors.
Because of the variety of topics, an experimental psychologist may conduct research with different subjects. Some research may be conducted on human subjects, but others may involve animals. Studies can range in length with some research stretching over a period of decades. Once the results are processed and analyzed, experimental psychologists will often publish the results in peer-reviewed journals.
Careers in Experimental Psychology
Many experimental psychologists work in a laboratory setting. However, the nature of laboratory jobs varies widely. Some laboratory work may be conducted in the business sector. Many marketing departments need experimental psychologists to perform market research. Since the results of this research will dictate future business decisions, corporations often rely on trained experimental psychologists to attain viable results.
Experimental psychologists may also find work with the government or private research agencies. This type of work is less driven by profits, but it often has wide-reaching implications. This research could look at certain behaviors or afflictions. It may also be focused on certain populations. The results from this research can be used to educate the public, but it can also be used to make policy decisions related to mental health and overall wellbeing.
Academia is another popular career path for experimental psychologists. Most major universities conduct research, which means they operate labs on campus. These laboratories are staffed by experimental psychologists who design, run and analyze the research. Many experimental psychologists at universities also teach, helping to train up the next generation of professionals.
Obtaining an Experimental Psychology Degree
Before you can start a career as an experimental psychologist, you need to earn your experimental psychology degree. Most of the time, you will start off as a psychology major during your undergraduate years. Although many psychology degrees will include experimental psychology as part of the curriculum, most students will not be able to specialize until they pursue a higher degree. You will probably want to get a doctoral degree in order to pursue the widest range of career options. While there may be some entry level work available, the majority of positions do require a doctoral degree.
A doctoral degree in experimental psychology will usually take five years. During this time, students will be expected to complete work in the classroom and the laboratory. You will probably be expected to complete a dissertation project as part of your coursework. To do this, you will have to select an area of research you wish to study. Then, you will be asked to design and conduct an experiment related to that topic. Your final results will be part of your dissertation project, which is usually your final test prior to graduation. Exact requirements will vary, but all degree programs are designed to prepare students for work in a lab or clinical setting.