Cognitive psychologists study the areas of the human brain that are responsible for perceptions, thoughts and memories. They focus on mental processes such as memorization, logic, problem-solving and speech development.
Most jobs in cognitive psychology require a doctorate degree, but some teaching, human performance research and industrial-organizational psychology positions can be obtained with a master’s degree in cognitive psychology.
An undergraduate degree in psychology or cognitive science provides a strong foundation for those interested in pursuing a career in cognitive psychology. A master’s degree in cognitive psychology can prepare students for positions in research or teaching.
Doctorate programs in cognitive psychology seek to refine research methodologies and analytic techniques. Cognitive psychology doctorate programs require candidates to focus their education and training on sensation and perception, cognition and information processing, or cognitive neuroscience.
Cognitive psychologists become experts in the ways people acquire, store and process information. Highly focused education and research helps them determine what motivates individuals, how individuals solve problem and which internal factors play into an individual’s decision-making process. Because of these specialized skills, cognitive psychologists are needed for a number of career paths.
Many cognitive psychologists work at universities conducting research and running experiments on mental processes. Some work as consultants for government agencies or other institutions. Cognitive psychologists may also choose to work in clinical settings, helping individuals with some of the following issues:
Industrial-organization jobs are some of the most popular career choices for cognitive psychologists. These positions address how and why people behave the way they do in various work environments. Cognitive psychologists may develop tests and interview tools that will help an employer decide whom to hire. They may also develop job performance measurement and evaluation techniques.
An education in clinical psychology is excellent preparation for a career in human factors. These positions typically involve working with the human-technology relationship to determine how people interact with computers or machines.
According to a 2006 survey by the U.S. Department of Labor, median annual earnings for industrial-organizational psychologists — a popular area for cognitive psychologists — were $86,420. A 2007 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) reports that overall, the average salary for cognitive psychologists in a 9-10 month faculty position was $71,000. The 2007 overall median salary for an 11-12-month doctoral-level research position was $90,000.
The U.S. Department of Labor predicts “faster than average” growth in all areas of psychology over the next few years. As technology becomes more advanced, the demand for cognitive psychologists is expected to rise due to an increased need for human performance and human-computer interaction specialists, as well as organizational psychology professionals.