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What is this career?

Research (or experimental) psychologists work in university and private research centers and in business, nonprofit, and governmental organizations. They study the behavior of both human beings and animals, such as rats, monkeys, and pigeons. Popular areas of study in experimental research include motivation, thought, attention, learning and memory, sensory and perceptual processes, effects of substance abuse, and genetic and neurological factors affecting behavior.

Social psychologists and developmental psychologists can also be considered “research psychologists.” Social psychologists examine people's interactions with others and with the social environment. They work in organizational consultation, marketing research, systems design, or other applied psychology fields. Developmental psychologists study the physiological, cognitive, and social development that takes place across the lifespan. Most specialize in behavior during infancy, childhood, adolescence, later life, or old age.

Psychologists conduct research on everything from how the brain functions on a very basic level, all the way up to how complex social organizations behave as a group. Subjects of such scientific study can include animals, human infants, well-functioning and emotionally disturbed people, elderly people, students, and workers - just about any population you can imagine! Some research takes place in laboratories where everything can be carefully controlled. Some is carried out in the field – the world, such as the workplace, the highway, schools, and hospitals, where behavior is studied as it occurs naturally.

Most psychological research takes place through universities, government agencies (such as the National Institutes of Health and the armed services), and private research organizations. Whereas most research psychologists actively plan and conduct their own research, some take on management or administration positions, after significant experience as an active researcher.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S Department of Labor, employment of all psychologists, including clinical psychologists, is expected to grow 12 percent from 2008 to 2018, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. Job prospects should be best for those with a doctoral degree from a leading university in an applied specialty. Additionally, psychologists with extensive training in quantitative research methods, statistics, and computer science may have a competitive edge over applicants without such background.

Opportunities & Challenges

Research psychology is a great career for those who love to learn. It gives individuals the power to not only discover what questions other people have attempted to answer, but to ask their own questions and find their own answers. Research psychologists have the opportunity to conduct in-depth detailed work both independently and as part of a team. Still, patience and perseverance are vital qualities; achieving results in research takes time.