Research or experimental psychologists investigate human and animal behavior using a methodological approach in controlled environments. Research in the field seeks to understand motivation, thinking, attention and memory.
Education and career paths in research psychology usually focus on behavior analysis, health psychology or neuroscience. Most research psychologist positions are at universities and research centers.
The majority of jobs in research psychology require a Ph.D. due to the scientific and strong experimental nature of the work. Positions can be obtained with a master’s degree but often require the supervision of a doctorate-level manager. Both master’s and doctorate programs expect students to focus their education on a specific area of research.
Master’s programs in research psychology take two to three years to complete, while doctorate programs require a five to seven year commitment. Undergraduates interested in pursuing an advanced degree in research psychology should consider studies in the sciences or general psychology.
Research psychologists conduct experiments and studies on the behavior of animals and humans. Most work is carried out in a laboratory or other controlled setting. Research psychologists adhere to the basic steps in the scientific method when conducting research—from formulating a hypothesis to sharing findings. Conclusions and results are communicated in medical journals or psychological journals published by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Research psychologists use a variety of tools to gather information such as:
Popular research areas in this field include:
In addition to working with humans, research psychologists should be comfortable working with rats, pigeons, monkeys, and other animals. According to the APA, though much psychological research implements humans, animal subjects are still an indispensable facet of many studies.
Depending on education and specialization, a career in research psychology can be quite lucrative. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, psychologists involved in scientific research earned an annual mean salary of $92,100 in 2007. A 2007 survey by the APA found that psychologists in research administration positions received a median salary of $110,000 for an 11-12-month appointment. Research jobs with the government or other nonprofits reported a median salary of $105,000 in 2007.
The U.S. Department of Labor predicts “faster than average” growth in all areas of psychology over the next few years The continued demand for solutions to psychological and social problems that can only be answered through research keeps jobs plentiful in the field of research psychology. Research psychologists with education and training in quantitative research methods will have more job opportunities than those lacking this background. Ph.D. programs can adequately prepare psychologists in this area.