Experimental, Behavioral, and Cognitive Psychology

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Experimental, Behavioral, and Cognitive Psychology

Experimental Psychology

It is probably a mistake to call the general field of Experimental Psychology a sub-field of Psychology. It is more accurate to note that what makes the field of Psychology a science is that it is Baedeker on and built from a foundation of research using the scientific method. Thus, all of Psychology -- at least the research aspects, is Experimental Psychology. Those who work in EP usually work in research settings -- either in academic labs or for other organizations that conduct basic research. These other organizations include government, pharmaceutical companies, defense contractors, non-profit research centers and others.

A person who considers him/herself an experimental psychologist explores theoretical predictions that might explain, or help to manage or control, behavior. Some experimental psychologists conduct research with animal subjects and some work exclusively with human subjects. Of those who work with animal subjects, some see their work as eventually helping us understand, predict, and manage human behavior and some are specifically interested in the animal species they study.

Experimental Psychology emerged as an orderly scientific discipline in the late 1800s. While earlier work within the developing field of Psychology had relied on varying methods, this began to change when Wilhelm Wundt applied the principles of mathematical study and the scientific method to the study of behavior. Other early experimentalists included Hermann Ebbinghaus, who conducted the first experimental studies of learning and memory, George Ladd, who founded the Psychology department at Yale, and Charles Pierce, who pioneered the use of randomized trials in experiments.

Over time, the use of the scientific method for hypothesis testing and the importance of well-designed experimental methods has expanded so that almost all sub-fields of Psychology have strong experimental components. With the continuing development of technologies and tools that allow objective measurement of more and more complex and subtle factors, the behaviors that can be studied experimentally continue to grow. While many of the topics studied experimentally are discussed in the sections of this wiki devoted to other sub-fields of Psychology, there are two broad areas that tend to be only loosely connected to other sub-fields. These are Behavioral and Cognitive.

Behavioral Psychology

Behavioral Psychology had its origin in B. F. Skinner and the theoretical model of Behaviorism. Behaviorism was, in large part, a reaction to some of the methods and theories of early Experimental Psychologists. While there are few, if any, strict Behavioralists still around, research into Behavioral Psychology is critical in helping us understand how various conditions impact behavior. Modern Behavioral Psychologists study the relationships between specific environmental conditions or stimuli, the physiological condition of the subject, and behavior.

One area in which the methods of Behavioral Psychology are particularly useful is the field of psychopharmacology -- the study of how drugs affect behavior. Psychopharmacologists study how different drugs and medication affect behavior. This field intersects with Neuroscience or Physiological Psychology in studying how drugs and medications affect the production and absorption of neurochemicals.

Behavioral Psychology also intersects with Developmental, School, Educational, Counseling, and Clinical Psychology around research into and the use of behavior modification.

Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive Psychology is the study of theoretical models of sensation, perception, learning, problem solving, language and memory. Cognitive Psychologists conduct basic research into these behaviors in order to understand how people perceive and think about things. While Behaviorism dominated the development of psychological theories and methods in America during the early part of the 20th century, European psychologists continued to explore questions about perception, thinking, and memory. During the latter part of the 20th century, the study of these factors became more and more prominent world-wide and the area of Cognitive Psychology developed.

Cognitive psychology also intersects with many more applied or focused areas of psychology including Developmental, Educational, and Neuroscience.

Peer-reviewed publications in Experimental Psychology

Again, it is something of a misnomer to isolate out any set of publications as being exclusively 'Experimental Psychology', since any research into behavior that uses an experimental design would meet the criteria for being the category. Nevertheless, there are journals that are considered primarily journals of Experimental Psychology, as shown by their titles. Below is a short list of some of these journals and a list of some recent publications

Journal of Experimental Psychology

Journal of Experimental Psychology. Animal Behavior Processes

Journal of Experimental Psychology. Human Learning and Memory

Journal of Experimental Psychology. Human Perception and Performance

Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition

The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology

The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. A, Human Experimental Psychology

The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. B, Comparative and Physiological Psychology

Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis


Behavioural Processes

Dorothea C. Lerman, Allison Tetreault, Alyson Hovanetz, Emily Bellaci, Jonathan Miller, Hilary Karp, Angela Mahmood, Maggie Strobel, Shelley Mullen, Alice Keyl, and Alexis Toupard. (2010) Applying signal detection theory to the study of observer accuracy and bias in behavioral assessment, Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 43, 195-213.

Ono, F. and Kitazawa, S. (2010) The effect of perceived motion-in-depth on time perception. Cognition, 115(1), 140-146, 7p; DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2009.12.006

Orduña, V., García, A., and Hong, E. (2010) Choice behavior in spontaneously hypertensive rats: Variable vs. fixed schedules of reinforcement. Behavioural Processes, 84(1), 465-469.

Killeen, P. R., Posadas-Sanchez, D., Johansen, E. B., and Thrailkill, E. A. (2009) Progressive Ratio Schedules of Reinforcement. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Animal Behavior Processes, 35(1), 35-50

Newman, S. D.. Pruce, B., Rusia, A., and Burns Jr., T. (2010) The Effect of Strategy on Problem Solving: An fMRI Study. Journal of Problem Solving, 3(1), 1-2

Jobs in Experimental Psychology

Most direct research jobs in Experimental Psychology require either a MA, MS, or PhD. Researchers study theory, read current research publications, and design new research to further test the theories that are being used to explain behavior. This work requires a deep understanding of the theories under study and of their history. It also requires that the researcher be an expert in research methodology and statistical analysis. For some studies, the researcher may also need to be competent in using complex equipment.

With a BA or BS in Psychology, it is possible to work as a Research Assistant or Technician in a lab. An assistant or technician might record data, contact human participants or care for animals, and do other types of support work for the research.

A search of one major online listing of jobs in academic settings yields 35 current postings for laboratory/research positions for which a degree in Psychology is a qualification. Of those 35 positions, 14 are Research Assistant positions that list a bachelor’s degree as the minimum qualification. An additional three of the 35 open positions list a master’s degree as the minimum qualification.

A current listing for a position requiring a Bachelor's degree:

School/Unit: Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Duties & Responsibilities

Full-time Research Assistant (RA) wanted for an exciting, large-scale project. The RA's primary responsibilities include: (1) data acquisition using behavioral and neuroimaging techniques (MRI); (2) data entry, data checking, and quality control procedures; and (3) subject recruitment and enrollment through community outreach and advertising. Other responsibilities include serving as an interface among several collaborating lab groups, maintaining participant databases, scoring and processing data and assisting with administrative tasks. Basic Qualifications None.

Additional Qualifications

B.A., B.S. or equivalent with background in psychology, neuroscience or related field. Candidates should have proficiency with basic computing packages such as MS Word and Excel; and will have some familiarity with one or more of the following (Linux, MATLAB, SPM, FSL, fMRI). Strong interpersonal skills, prior research experience, high level of organization with careful attention to detail, and comfort with technical skills is required. This position requires a high degree of motivation and self-sufficiency, although extensive training and supervision will be provided.

A current listing for a position requiring a Master's degree:

College of Arts and Sciences

Essential Duties: Conduct social policy research on substance abuse, criminal justice, public opinion, and related areas. Job duties may include program evaluation; technical assistance and consultation with state funding agencies and grant funded community program managers; outcome assessment (designing, gathering, analyzing, preparing, and presenting data for various projects); survey design and oversight; statistical analysis; report writing; occasional public presentations; coordination of and participation in community-based field research; and supervision of, assistance to, and cooperation with other WYSAC research staff. In addition, the successful applicant will prepare grant and contract applications, provide consultation or training to the public or University community, conduct workshops, travel to state, regional and national conferences. Responsibilities may also include literature searches to identify additional research and to assist in preparation of conference presentations and manuscripts for publication.

Minimum Qualifications: A master's degree in a social science, applied statistics, or a related discipline is expected, along with strong research skills, statistical competence, and methodological knowledge applicable to large-scale research projects. Specific technical experience needed includes data analysis, project direction, time management, and supervisory skills. In addition, applicants should demonstrate excellent writing, oral communication, and organizational skills in prior work settings. Ability to work collaboratively with colleagues and clients in an entrepreneurial environment is essential.

Desired Qualifications: A doctoral degree with a strong background in research design and policy research (knowledge of measurement and outcome research) is preferred. An understanding of issues and best practices in public health, education, criminal justice, survey research, and/or substance abuse prevention would be beneficial. Ability to create new survey and evaluation instruments as needed, data management, a thorough understanding of data analysis, and successful experience in securing contracts and grants for funded research are all highly desirable. Familiarity with Wyoming governmental agencies is also preferred.

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