Is Psychology An Applied Science?

Debates over whether academic disciplines like psychology should be classified as ‘applied’ sciences have implications for how they are perceived and valued. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick take: While parts of psychology focus on pure research, the field has always maintained a strong emphasis on real-world applications for improving mental health, performance, and human welfare.

So psychology can rightly be considered an applied science.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll analyze the characteristics of applied sciences and examine how psychology measures up. We’ll look at areas of psychology focused on applications like clinical practice, sports psychology, and organizational psychology.

But we’ll also consider pure research areas like cognitive neuroscience and social psychology. By weighing evidence from both sides, we’ll gain a nuanced view of psychology as a diverse field with elements of both applied and basic science.

Defining Applied Sciences

Applied sciences can be defined as branches of scientific knowledge that are concerned with the practical application of scientific principles and theories. These sciences aim to solve real-world problems and improve our understanding of how things work in order to make practical contributions to society.

One such field of study is psychology, which can be considered both a basic science and an applied science, depending on its application.

Contrasting with Pure or Basic Science

While pure or basic sciences focus on expanding our knowledge and understanding of the world around us, applied sciences take this knowledge and apply it to solve practical problems. In the case of psychology, pure psychology focuses on the theoretical and experimental aspects of the field, such as studying human behavior and cognitive processes.

On the other hand, applied psychology takes this knowledge and uses it to address real-world issues, like improving mental health, enhancing workplace productivity, or designing effective educational programs.

For example, a pure psychologist might conduct research to understand the underlying mechanisms of memory formation, while an applied psychologist might use this knowledge to develop strategies to help individuals with memory impairments improve their memory recall abilities.

Real-World Applications and Practical Value

One of the key characteristics of applied sciences, including psychology, is their focus on real-world applications and practical value. Applied psychology, for instance, is used in various domains such as clinical psychology, counseling psychology, educational psychology, and organizational psychology.

These areas of applied psychology aim to address specific problems and improve the lives of individuals and communities.

For instance, clinical psychologists apply psychological theories and techniques to diagnose and treat mental disorders, helping individuals overcome challenges and improve their overall well-being. Educational psychologists use their knowledge of learning and development to design effective teaching methods and interventions to support students’ academic success.

Organizational psychologists utilize psychological principles to improve workplace dynamics, employee satisfaction, and productivity.

Aspects of Psychology Focused on Applications

Clinical and Counseling Psychology

Clinical and counseling psychology are two branches of psychology that focus on the application of psychological principles to help individuals improve their mental health and well-being. Clinical psychologists work with individuals who are experiencing psychological disorders, such as anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia.

They provide therapy and counseling to help individuals manage their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life.

Counseling psychologists, on the other hand, work with individuals who are dealing with everyday life challenges, such as relationship issues, career decisions, or stress management. They provide guidance and support to help individuals develop coping strategies and make positive changes in their lives.

Both clinical and counseling psychology emphasize the importance of the therapeutic relationship between the psychologist and the client. They use evidence-based techniques and interventions to help individuals overcome their difficulties and achieve their goals.

If you’re interested in learning more about clinical and counseling psychology, you can visit the American Psychological Association website for more information.

Educational and School Psychology

Educational and school psychology focus on the application of psychological principles in educational settings. Educational psychologists study how people learn and develop throughout their lives and use this knowledge to improve educational practices and policies.

School psychologists, on the other hand, work directly with students, teachers, and parents to address the social, emotional, and academic needs of students. They conduct assessments to identify learning disabilities or behavioral problems, provide counseling and support services, and collaborate with teachers to develop effective learning strategies.

Educational and school psychologists play a crucial role in creating positive learning environments and helping students succeed academically and socially. They often work as part of a multidisciplinary team, including teachers, administrators, and other professionals, to support students’ overall well-being.

To learn more about educational and school psychology, you can visit the National Association of School Psychologists website.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology is a field of psychology that focuses on the application of psychological principles in the workplace. I-O psychologists work with organizations to improve employee productivity and well-being.

They may be involved in tasks such as employee selection and assessment, leadership development, team building, and organizational change management. I-O psychologists use their knowledge of human behavior and motivation to help organizations create a positive work environment, increase job satisfaction, and enhance performance.

I-O psychologists also play a role in improving workplace diversity and inclusion, as well as addressing issues related to work-life balance and employee well-being. They may conduct research, develop training programs, and provide consulting services to organizations of all sizes.

If you’re interested in learning more about industrial-organizational psychology, you can visit the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology website.

Basic Research Areas in Psychology

Psychology is a vast field that encompasses various research areas aimed at understanding human behavior and mental processes. These research areas provide valuable insights into different aspects of human cognition, emotions, development, and genetics.

Some of the key research areas in psychology include:

Cognitive, Social, and Developmental Psychology

Cognitive psychology focuses on studying mental processes such as perception, attention, memory, language, and problem-solving. Researchers in this field aim to understand how individuals acquire, process, and store information.

Social psychology, on the other hand, explores how individuals interact with others and how social factors influence behavior, attitudes, and beliefs. Developmental psychology examines the changes that occur across the lifespan, from infancy to old age, and how individuals develop psychologically and emotionally.

Neuropsychology and Cognitive Neuroscience

Neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience are interdisciplinary fields that investigate the relationship between the brain and behavior. Neuropsychologists study how brain damage or neurological disorders can affect cognitive functions such as attention, memory, and language.

Cognitive neuroscientists use advanced imaging techniques like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain activity and understand the neural basis of various cognitive processes. These research areas contribute to our understanding of brain-behavior relationships and help develop interventions for individuals with neurological conditions.

Behavioral Genetics

Behavioral genetics is the study of how genes and the environment interact to influence behavior. Researchers in this field aim to understand the extent to which genetic factors contribute to traits and behaviors such as intelligence, personality, and mental disorders.

By studying twins, adoption studies, and conducting genetic analyses, behavioral geneticists can estimate the heritability of certain traits and identify specific genes associated with behavior. This research area helps us understand the complex interplay between nature and nurture in shaping human behavior.

These research areas in psychology provide a foundation for understanding various aspects of human behavior and mental processes. By conducting research in these fields, psychologists gain valuable insights that can be applied to real-world problems and improve the lives of individuals and communities.

Interplay Between Basic and Applied Psychology

Translational Research

One of the key aspects of the interplay between basic and applied psychology is the concept of translational research. Translational research refers to the process of taking findings from basic psychological research and applying them to real-world settings and practical applications.

This bridge between basic and applied psychology allows for the development of interventions and treatments that are grounded in scientific evidence. For example, researchers studying cognitive processes may use their findings to develop strategies to improve memory or attention in individuals with cognitive impairments.

Bidirectional Influence

The relationship between basic and applied psychology is bidirectional, meaning that each field influences the other. Basic psychological research provides the foundation upon which applied psychology is built.

By conducting experiments and studies in controlled laboratory settings, researchers can uncover fundamental principles of human behavior and cognition. These principles then serve as the basis for applied psychologists to develop interventions and strategies to address real-world problems.

On the other hand, applied psychologists provide valuable feedback to the field of basic psychology by identifying gaps in knowledge and suggesting areas for further research.

Shared Methods and Principles

Both basic and applied psychology share common methods and principles. Researchers in both fields use rigorous scientific methods to collect and analyze data. They rely on empirical evidence to support their conclusions and strive to minimize biases and errors in their research.

Additionally, both fields adhere to ethical guidelines to ensure the well-being and protection of research participants. These shared methods and principles contribute to the credibility and validity of psychological research as a whole.

The American Psychological Association (APA) is a reputable organization that provides guidance and resources for both basic and applied psychologists. Their website,, offers a wealth of information on psychological research, practice, and ethics.

Valuing Both Pure and Applied Science

When discussing the field of psychology, the question often arises: Is psychology an applied science? The answer lies in understanding the complementary aims and strengths of both pure and applied science.

While pure science focuses on expanding knowledge and understanding through research, applied science aims to apply that knowledge to practical problems and improve the lives of individuals and society as a whole.

Complementary Aims and Strengths

Pure science, often referred to as basic or fundamental research, seeks to explore theoretical concepts and uncover new knowledge. Researchers in this field are driven by curiosity, seeking to understand the underlying mechanisms and principles that govern human behavior and mental processes.

They employ rigorous methodologies, such as experiments and statistical analysis, to gather data and draw conclusions. This research lays the foundation for the development of evidence-based theories and models.

On the other hand, applied science takes the knowledge generated by pure science and puts it into practice. Applied psychologists, for example, use psychological theories and findings to address real-world problems.

They work in a range of settings, including clinical, educational, and industrial, to develop interventions and strategies that promote mental health, enhance learning, and improve workplace productivity.

By bridging the gap between theory and practice, applied science has a direct impact on people’s lives.

Diversity Promotes Scientific Progress

It is important to recognize that both pure and applied science are essential for scientific progress. While pure science lays the groundwork for new discoveries, applied science builds upon this foundation to create practical solutions.

The two approaches are interdependent, with each benefiting from the contributions of the other.

Diversity within the field of psychology also plays a crucial role in scientific progress. By embracing a range of perspectives, theories, and methodologies, psychologists can tackle complex problems from different angles.

This diversity fosters innovation and creativity, leading to a deeper understanding of human behavior and the development of more effective interventions.

Applications Depend on Basic Research

It is worth noting that the applications of psychology heavily rely on the findings of basic research. Without a solid understanding of the underlying mechanisms and theories, it would be challenging to develop effective interventions and treatments.

Basic research provides the knowledge that applied psychologists draw upon when designing interventions, evaluating their effectiveness, and making informed decisions.

For instance, research on cognitive processes, memory, and learning has contributed to the development of evidence-based educational interventions. Similarly, studies on mental health disorders have led to the development of effective therapeutic approaches.

Without the insights gained from basic research, these applications would not have been possible.


While parts of psychology are focused on gathering basic scientific knowledge, the field has always maintained a central emphasis on improving human welfare through real-world applications. Clinical therapies, educational interventions, and industrial-organizational programs derive from and feed back into foundational research on the human mind and behavior.

Psychology encompasses both rigorous basic science and effective practical applications, which interact synergistically to advance knowledge and serve society.

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