5 Areas of Research for Graduate Psychology Students

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Updated August 4, 2020

Graduate Psychology Research Areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Decision Processes
  • Memory and Learning
  • Brain and Cognitive Science
  • Individuality Studies

Psychology research is vital because the human mind continues to be a difficult riddle to solve. While clinical psychology grows as a field, it is research that drives new techniques or demonstrates or disproves the validity of theories and ideas. Those studying psychology who are drawn to research as a field know they are expected to be thorough, educated, and systematic. But they must also have strong personality traits such as objectivity, compassion, and reliability.

Resource: Top 25 Doctoral Programs in Psychology

Here are five areas of research that might provide opportunity for psychology graduate students.

1. Social Psychology

Social psychology offers a wide range of research topics that interest graduate students by exploring individual behavior in social contexts. Social psychologists look at factors that cause us to behave in certain ways around other people, and the conditions which tend to lead to certain behaviors and actions. Researchers will attempt to establish how individual thoughts, feelings, and intentions fit in with group goals. Some of the influences considered might be aggression, prejudices, interpersonal mechanisms, social conventions, and many others.

2. Decision Processes

Many business and political institutions have vested interests in the research psychology behind judgement and the decision-making process. More specific topics may involve factors such as bias, organizational hierarchy, intuition, skepticism, communication channels, perceptions of charisma or ethics, and many more. Time schedules, data validity, and risk analysis are all questions that researchers must address in exploring how decisions are made independently or within established methodologies to formulate new ideas for improvement. The APA, for instance, has published an article on the research behind decision making involved in jury trials.

3. Memory and Learning

In research psychology, the term metacognition refers to how people view their own cognitive process – or their thoughts on their own thinking. Probing the capacity for memorization is of special interest to the fields of training and education, as well as behavior in general. Studies show that most people tend to over-estimate their memory yet lack confidence in their learning ability. Investigating why this is, and the internal processes at work during the learning experience, can provide valuable contributions toward helping people learn faster and retain information longer.

4. Brain and Cognitive Science

There are many opportunities in studying the cognitive and neural mechanisms related to perception, focus, language, and other organic mechanisms which affect behavior and processing abilities. Graduate psychology students in this area of research may work with experts in neuroscience, biochemistry, linguistics, and other disciplines to gather data and test theories on how various physiologic traits affect our senses, perceptions, and thus our interactions with the physical world.

5. Individuality Studies

Psychological research on how individual differences affect general principles of behavior is relevant to many fields of study. Investigators seek to predict, measure, and analyze influences that cause people to react to the same circumstances or stimuli in very different ways. This includes behavior that are relatively stable over time. These may involve both normal and abnormal personalities as well as relative abilities and motives. Researchers want to know how environmental and genetic factors affect problem-solving or moral judgements.

Research conducted by trained and experienced psychologists provides many opportunities because repeated and varied studies are often necessary to validate connections between behavior and underlying factors. New facts and interpretations can change the course of any science, and a curiosity regarding new ideas is an important trait in any psychology researcher.

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