Continuing our discussion of psychology, today’s topic will be on the different subfields of psychology. Why is this important? Knowing about the different subfields of psychology allows you to understand how psychology is practiced in a number of different settings and sets the stage for you to learn more about what concepts and techniques are applied in the practice of psychology, no matter the field.
Biological Psychology: Biological psychologists are also known as physiological psychologists. These types of psychologists use scanning devices and other techniques to study how behavior and mental process affect biological processes in the brain. An example of this is studying brain activity when someone is reading, using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. Interestingly, if you have ever experienced déjà vu, you might be interested to know that biological psychologists, in their study of the phenomena, have suggested that it is due to what might be a short-lived malfunction in the brain’s ability to combine incoming information from the different senses. This creates the impression of two versions of a single event. Moreover, biological psychologists do research on such things as how your brain is able to control your movements and speech, and the organs involved in stress coping mechanisms as well as disease-fighting (Bernstein et al. 2012).
Cognitive Psychology: Cognitive psychologists are also known as experimental psychologists. This type of psychologist studies mental abilities. A few topics of study for a cognitive psychologist might be memory, thinking, consciousness, intelligence, and creativity. One discovery credited to cognitive psychologists is that more than just receiving incoming information, we actually manipulate incoming information. This type of psychologist may actually work in fields such as engineering psychology, also called human factors, wherein they help designers to creature such things as computer keyboards, cellular phones, websites, navigation systems for automobiles, remote controls for televisions, and more (Bernstein et al. 2012).
Developmental Psychology: Developmental psychologists are tasked with the responsibility of describing how behavior and mental processes change from birth to old age. They also try to understand what causes such changes, and what the effects of such changes are. Applications of developmental psychologists’ work are far and wide, such as in courts when responsibly deciding which parent a child can live with in a divorce case, or decided how old a child must be in order to be a reliable witness in a court case. Generally, outside the court, developmental psychology can also apply to parenting, evaluating day care, and preserving the mental capacity of elderly people (Bernstein et al. 2012).
Personality Psychology: Personality psychologists study those features about us that make us unique and distinct from others, or in other words, our individuality. This type of psychologist utilizes personality tests in order to do such things as describe how a combination of personality traits in a particular person differs from those in someone else. Traits used in comparison are ones like openness to experience, emotionality, reliability, agreeableness, and sociability. Some other psychologists might study personality traits that are associated with ethnic prejudice, depressions, or susceptibility to stress-related health problems, for example. For those personality psychologists who focus their research on positive psychology, they study is a particular type of psychology that focuses on human flourishing and how humans can function optimally in application. Some specific topics of study include what strengths humans have that help them to remain optimistic, even when many environmental factors might predict the opposite response (Bernstein et al. 2012).
Clinical, Counseling, Community, and Health Psychology: Clinical psychologists and counseling psychologists are perhaps one of the psychologists you might be most familiar with if you work in the medical field. This type of psychologist focuses on research on the causes and treatments of mental disorders. They may also work with people who are affected by mental illnesses, in order to help them overcome the mental disorders that affect them. Clinical psychologists may be interested in not only the environmental forces that shape mental disorders like anxiety, depression, autism, and bipolar disorder, but also the genetic ones. Similarly, community psychologists play a role in this process but try to ensure that homeless people and others who might not traditionally seek mental help, actually receive services for the treatment of the mental disorders that affect them. They may also play an active role in the reduction of mental disorders within a community, by helping to improve the quality of local schools, as well as reduce crime and poverty rates, and other circumstances that typically do not easily allow someone to thrive. And finally, health psychologists, who are also very popular in the medical field, seek to study how risky behaviors and the likelihood of suffering from morbid diseases are related. On the other hand, they may also study how various physiological illnesses such as diabetes mellitus, multiple sclerosis, and even HIV affect the affected person’s behavior and mental processes. The research carried out by health psychologists is typically applied in programs used to help patients cope with their physiological illnesses; research may also be used in a preventative manner by way of changing risky behaviors. These types of psychologists typically hold a master’s, or more commonly, a doctorate (Ph.D.) in psychology (Bernstein et al. 2012).
Educational and School Psychology: Educational psychologists use the study of psychology to formulate effective theories regarding the processes of teaching and learning. Programs that are used in order to improve teacher training, improve school curricula, reduce dropout rates, and allow students to learn in a more efficient matter while retaining the information they learn, all utilize the application of this type of psychology. One outcome of the research done by education psychologists was the development of a technique known as the “jigsaw” technique, which places students of various ethnic groups together in order for them to complete a task or solve a problem using cooperation and teamwork. This task tends to promote learning, general respect amongst students from vastly different backgrounds, and reduce prejudice. As well, school psychologists do things such as IQ testing, diagnose learning disabilities, and crisis intervention follow school violence (Bernstein et al. 2012).
Social Psychology: Social psychologists study the different ways that people think about themselves and other people, and how people actually influence one another. One useful application of this type of psychology is in the development of safe sex advertising campaigns, where the risks of contracting HIV, and enduring unwanted pregnancies are often pointed out; such advertising campaigns play on valuable knowledge obtained by social psychologists about persuasion. Moreover, this type of psychologist may study how peer pressure affects us, what determines who we like and love, and why and how we form prejudices against one another. Social psychologists have determined, for example, that although we may tout ourselves as free from prejudice, we may actually hold inner biases that subconsciously affect the way we interact with other people. What’s more, the work of social psychologists is often applied to dating websites, for example, which use complex algorithms to match two people as potentially compatible partners (Bernstein et al. 2012).
Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Industrial and organizational psychologists conduct research on various aspects of the workplace, including leadership, stress, competitiveness, pay scales, and more. Their studies are aimed at those topics that affect the efficiency, productivity, as well as satisfaction of people in the workplace. Other topics of interest include motivation of workers, work team cooperation, conflict resolution procedures, and employee selection methods. The discoveries of industrial and organizational psychologists, in reference to how businesses and industrial organizations work, allow for these psychologists to make sensible recommendations for helping them work more efficiently. This type of psychology is becoming increasingly common as employers seek to train their employees more effectively, promote ambitious but realistic goal-setting procedures, evaluate employees fairly and reasonably, and provide incentive systems that after effective at motivating and rewarding employees who exhibit outstanding performance (Bernstein et al. 2012).
Quantitative Psychology: Quantitative psychologists practice a mathematically-based psychology that uses statistical tools to analyze data collected by psychologists of all of the other sub fields of psychology. By using a wide range of statistical, analytical tools, these psychologists can evaluate the quality of psychological tests, trace relationships over time in a number of different psychological variables, show trends in data, and even provide an approximation of how much “nature and nurture” each contribute to factors such as intelligence (Bernstein et al. 2012).
Other Subfields of Psychology: A number of other subfields of this wonderful topic exist. Sports psychologists also practice psychology in order to develop training programs that help athletes increase their performance levels. Forensic psychologists take part in criminal trials by investigating the mental competence of a suspect to stand trial. Environmental psychologists study how the environment affects the behavior and mental processes of people. Architects and interior designers may apply the research of environmental psychologists in order to remodel different structures in order to make them more suitable to the populations that they must serve. Other psychologists include neuropsychologists, military psychologists, consumer psychologists, rehabilitation psychologists, and more (Bernstein et al. 2012).
Though this post has been incredibly lengthy, you should appreciate the fact that psychology affects both you and I so vastly, and you should realize how important it is to the field of medicine, which you might wish to enter later on as a healthcare professional. Note, however, that the subfields of psychology are not individual of themselves such that they do not overlap. A lot of overlap actually occurs between different subfields of psychology, such as when developmental psychologists study the changes that take place in children’s thinking skills, which effectively links developmental psychology to educational psychology (Bernstein et al. 2012). In future posts, I will discuss how psychology is linked to other fields altogether, that may seem worlds apart from the study of psychology at first glance.
A prospective medical student, looking to help others succeed.