Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and human behavior. It is a multifaceted discipline that concerns all aspects of human experience, from the workings of the human brain to the environmental and social factors that influence behavior.
Within psychology, there are subfields, including applied psychology and forensic psychology. Each takes its own approach and makes its own contributions to our understanding of the human mind and human behavior. And while the subfields have different foci, they share a common goal: to understand why people think, feel and behave the way they do.
If you're considering a degree in psychology, it's essential to know the different subfields. By understanding the differences, you can identify which area best aligns with your interests and abilities. Armed with this knowledge, you can choose the right in-person or online psychology courses to set yourself up for success in your chosen career path.
Interested in helping others? Explore University of Phoenix's psychology degrees.
Abnormal psychology specializes in the study of behavioral deviations. These include atypical behaviors, emotions and thoughts. Abnormal psychology researchers seek to understand why these deviations occur and how best to treat them.
Psychologists focus on such aspects of life as:
Abnormal behavior can seem like a subjective term, but clinical psychologists in this field use some general markers to identify it. If the behavior causes distress to a person or those around them, and if it interferes with their ability to participate in their normal life, then it might be considered abnormal.
This area of psychology focuses on differentiating between maladaptive and adaptive behaviors. This is the difference between behaviors that are beneficial in the short term versus those that are in fact beneficial in the long term. Some of the disorders studied in this field are:
2. Behavioral psychology
Behavioral psychology focuses on studying observable behaviors. Behavioral psychology researchers seek to understand why certain behaviors occur and how best to change them. The main focus of behavioral psychologists is to find ways to change problematic behaviors through:
Behavioral psychologists work in a variety of settings, such as:
John Watson is generally considered the father of behavioral psychology. Behaviorists emphasize how “stimuli,” or the interactions between a subject and their environment, enforce or punish certain behavior. Behavioral psychology has applications in clinical psychology and research settings.
Biopsychology focuses on studying the biological bases of behavior and mental processes. Biopsychology researchers seek to understand how the structure and function of the brain and nervous system influence behavior. These psychologists are scientists who study:
Typically, a biopsychologist works with patients who have:
Many jobs in this field require a doctorate in biopsychology or a related field such as neuroscience. Although many biopsychologists work in academic and private research facilities, they may also work in marketing, education, technology or politics.
4. Cognitive psychology
Cognitive psychology focuses on studying mental processes. These include perception, memory, language and thinking. Cognitive psychology researchers seek to understand how people process information and how these processes influence behavior. These psychologists study:
Cognitive psychologists work in a variety of settings, such as:
Developmental psychology focuses on studying human development. In other words, how do people develop physically, emotionally and mentally throughout their life span? Developmental psychologists study:
Physical development such as motor skills and sensory processing
Cognitive development such as moral understanding, language and problem-solving
Emotional development in terms of self-esteem, emotional self-regulation and empathy
Social development in terms of self-concept, relationships, prosocial behavior and altruism
Personality development such as identity information, temperament and self-efficacy
Developmental psychologists work in various positions as both clinical psychologists and general therapy roles such as:
6. Forensic psychology
Forensic psychology applies psychological principles to the criminal justice system. It explores how psychological knowledge might be used to investigate and evaluate legal issues and matters relating to crime and procedure.
Forensic psychologists work in many different settings, such as:
Probation and parole offices
Child protective services
The goal of forensic psychology is to come to conclusions that help inform legal arguments without interrupting the process. As a result, there is a great focus on resolving the conflicts between psychological ethics and legal requirements.
This work can involve making observations and conducting interviews with people involved in a case. Forensic psychologists may be responsible for summarizing and reporting a psychological profile to the judge and jury.
That isn’t to say that forensic psychologists do not occupy any health psychology or clinical psychology roles. Their familiarity with criminal cases puts them in a unique position to provide counsel to victims of violent crimes.
For work in the field of forensic psychology, students must complete an accredited doctoral program and pass a state licensing exam.
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Social psychology studies how people interact with each other and how they behave in groups. It focuses on the factors that influence social behavior, such as:
Social psychologists seek to understand and explain how people's thoughts, feelings and actions are impacted by the actual, mental or imagined presence of others. Social psychologists work in many different settings, such as:
Social psychologists typically need a doctoral degree and a state licensing credential to work in this field, particularly when their duties intersect with clinical psychology. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in social work generally require a bachelor’s or master's degree.
8. Industrial-organizational psychology
Industrial-organizational psychology applies psychological principles to organizations. It focuses on how people interact with each other and how they behave in the workplace. Industrial-organizational psychologists operate in many different settings, such as:
Human resources departments
Training and development departments
Management consulting firms
The typical focus of an industrial-organizational psychologist is not an individual but rather a group of people. Industrial-organizational psychologists use their knowledge to help organizations improve their productivity and effectiveness.
Industrial-organizational psychology helps businesses keep morale high, which in turn can help boost productivity within an organization.
Industrial-organizational psychologists can tackle a multitude of duties. They can help in the hiring process by defining the optimal psychological profile of the perfect candidate. They can define success metrics and help managers identify where certain employees are struggling and where things can be improved.
Career outcomes for students pursuing degrees in industrial-organizational psychology can include:
Human resources specialist
These professionals are involved in recruiting, screening and interviewing job applicants. According to BLS, the annual salary range in May 2021 for this role was $37,680 to $108,160.
Training and development specialist
Specialists in training and development work to enhance the skill set of an employee group through various methods including learning and development. The annual salary range in May 2021 for training and development specialists was $31,340 to $103,240, according to BLS.
With this degree, a person might pursue a variety of career options, including work as a communication specialist. According to BLS, public relations specialists work to shape public perception about a company or organization through multiple communication channels. The national salary range was $37,020 to $124,620 in May 2021, according to BLS.
The salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location, and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level, or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.
Master of Science in Psychology
Those looking to gain a deeper understanding of human behavior may also consider pursuing a Master of Science in Psychology after completing a qualifying bachelor’s degree program. At University of Phoenix, the master of psychology program explores the ways psychological principles can be applied to personal, social and organizational challenges.
Psychology is a complex and diverse field with many specialties. Pursuing a career in psychology can be rewarding, as you will have the opportunity to help people in a variety of ways.
Interested in the inner workings of the human mind? Consider a psychology degree from University of Phoenix!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Feder is a content marketing specialist at University of Phoenix, where he researches and writes on a variety of topics, ranging from healthcare to IT. He is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars program and a New Jersey native!