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Applied Research In Psychology

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Applied Research In Psychology

From academic studies and therapy to corrections and business psychology, there are so many ways that psychological studies can improve our daily lives. How do we get this information to solve our problems?

  • What is applied research?
  • What are different research methods psychologists use to collect data?
  • What are the different types of research?
  • What are examples of applied research in psychology?

Applied Research Psychology: Definition

Let's start with what applied research actually is.

Applied research is a scientific study designed to apply the results to real-world situations.

Easy enough, right? The name "applied research" is rather self-explanatory. Psychologists conduct the research with a specific goal or application in mind, and then put the results to good use. The following text explains how they do that.

Applied Research Methods In Psychology

Applied research explores topics and ideas that address real-world issues. Taking the findings from this research and using them is what separates applied research from basic research. Basic research tends to be more theoretical, focusing on "bigger picture" ideas. This doesn't mean that basic research isn't useful. Basic research can provide information and knowledge for more specialized applied research.

To conduct applied research, you first need to identify a problem. This can be just about anything, and we will cover some examples later on. With this problem in mind, you then consider variables and other factors that might influence how you carry out your research.

Naturalistic observation is observing behavior in a normal or comfortable environment.

Naturalistic observation is very popular in applied research because you can see the problem in a real-world environment. You can figure out how the problem occurs to get to the bottom of it.

Applied Research in Psychology, a crowded festival in a city, plenty of people wandering the shops and food stands under neon light, StudysmarterNaturalistic observation looks at people existing in a normal environment. Pexels.

Potential Problems

Like any other type of research, issues and challenges can pop up, such as research ethics. When working in a natural environment, you need to keep in mind participants' concerns about privacy and informed consent. Depending on the environment, participants could feel pressured to take part in the study. For instance, if a sports and performance psychologist is hired to help team performance, the players might feel pressured into participating in the study. If all of the other team members are doing it, they might agree to participate in the study, even if they don't want to.

Another thing to keep in mind is the validity of your findings. Let's say the players on that team benefit from meeting up outside of practice to hang out. Does that mean that all teams would benefit? Questions like that have to be answered by considering the external validity of your work. External validity is how much the findings of the study in one environment hold to other people in different settings.

Advanced Research Methods for Applied Psychology

Not every research study relies on naturalistic observation. There are various research methods that psychologists might use to conduct their studies.

Case Studies

This falls under the qualitative research branch of applied research. These types of studies involve looking into individuals, groups, communities, or events as they occur. If this sounds a bit familiar, you would be right. Case studies rely on naturalistic observation, which we discussed earlier.

Experiment

Psychological experiments can cover many topics and methods, but they all follow very rigid procedures. Experiments involve control of variables, making sure that only the variable in question is changed and the other environmental factors remain the same.

Experiments are validated by other researchers repeating the study. They will control the same variables, measure the results the same way, and analyze the outcome to see if they get similar results.

Surveys

Survey research combines qualitative and quantitative evidence and is widely used in scientific fields! Participants are sent surveys and are asked to self-report behaviors, actions, symptoms, thoughts, and more to measure how certain variables impact them. The most crucial factor in survey studies is the sampling pool.

Sampling pools are the groups of eligible participants for a study, from which the actual participants are selected from.

The way surveys are conducted varies greatly. It can be a simple mail-in survey that people fill out with a pencil, answer over the phone, or video chat!

Types of Applied Research In Psychology

Now that we understand how to conduct applied research, let's look at some of the different areas this research can focus on.

Brain Science & Cognitive Psychology

The brain is weird, but it is impressive and powerful too. We can learn, remember, see, and create anything with just our brain. However, the human brain is far from perfect. Cognitive psychologists look at how we perceive and process information - from languages to emotions. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines are very useful for this. MRIs can show how differences in brain structure can impact health, personality, or thinking.

Everyone from teachers and engineers to artists and graphic designers wants to know more about the brain. Cognitive psychology research could be applied to the layouts of new schools and how businesses function daily. Such research can also be applied to understanding and treating Alzheimer's disease, memory loss, speech impediments, and more!

Climate and Environmental Psychology

Do you ever feel happier and more energized on sunny days? Do you wonder why some people meticulously recycle, whereas others throw everything in the trash without a second thought? If so, then climate and environmental psychology might be for you.

While many psychologists in this field focus on nature, "the environment" doesn't necessarily mean trees and grass. Environmental psychologists might look at how different posters and paint colors on the wall impact behavior, the most efficient and sustainable way to plan roads in a city, and more. Now, they don't entirely ignore the planet, however. Researchers in this field can also encourage people to be more climate-conscious and work to change environmentally damaging behavior.

Clinical Psychology and Counseling Psychology

At its core, clinical psychology promotes positive change, such as treating depression or aiding in public policy. Clinical psychology is incredibly broad and can focus on various mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. The research aims to prevent, assess, diagnose, or treat problems with these disorders in mind.

Some clinical psychologists specialize in specific issues, such as marriage issues or addiction. Others can focus on particular groups of people, as opposed to problems. These groups can be anything from children, certain racial and ethnic groups, families, or LGBTQ+ people. Regardless of what a clinical psychologist focuses on, their work can be applied anywhere and to anything regarding mental health.

Clinical psychology can help make diagnoses for mental health disorders, especially for patients who have symptoms of multiple disorders. Social anxiety and generalized anxiety may be hard to differentiate, but that's what clinical psychologists are for.

Counseling psychology will often work hand-in-hand with clinical psychology. Counselors aim to help people improve happiness and work through problems. Sometimes, these problems can be diagnosable disorders and treated by clinical psychologists. However, clinical psychologists have their eyes on more severe and long-lasting conditions, whereas counseling psychologists look at the overall well-being of a person.

Developmental Psychology

It's no secret that we change as we get older. We are constantly changing, all the time. Developmental psychologists look at how we grow and develop at different life stages. They can look at anything from the physical growth of the brain to learning patterns between babies and adults.

Work in this field will often focus on conducting basic research and teaching. However, this information can be applied to clinics treating people with developmental disabilities. Developmental psychologists can work with assisted living homes to centers for the homeless.

Forensic and Public Service Psychology

From the crime scene to the courtroom, forensic psychologists play important roles in judicial systems and public safety. The work a forensic psychologist can do is vast. Some may evaluate victims of an abuse case, whereas others can provide insight into a defendant's sanity.

Forensic psychologists can work to validate a person's plea of insanity, where they claim that mental distress was the cause for criminal actions.

Public service psychologists can spend time in the courtroom but may work more outside of it. These specialists can often be seen helping veterans adjust to civilian life after returning from war or training first responders.

Applied Research In Psychology, a corkboard with evidence pictures labelled with numbers, StudySmarterForensic psychologists can help detectives connect the dots in a case. Pexels.

Health and Rehabilitation Psychology

When the body is sick, the brain reacts. Sometimes, physical illnesses are only in the brain. Health psychologists ask what motivates us to be healthy and how we make the best choices for our bodies. They have to consider all factors to determine what drives certain behaviors. They'll look at anything from psychosomatic illnesses to anxiously picking at your fingernails.

Psychosomatic illnesses are ailments that are not caused by any physical factor. The symptoms are caused by mental stress or emotional duress.

Rehabilitation psychologists step in when you're recovering from an injury or living with chronic illnesses. Adapting and changing lifestyle choices is difficult, especially with severe physical factors. Whether it's addiction or arthritis, rehabilitation psychologists work in hospitals, outpatient facilities, and assisted living to help people overcome obstacles and thrive!

Human Factors and Engineering Psychology

Have you ever gotten frustrated with a poorly-designed website or vague instructions on how to build furniture? You're not alone, and these psychologists want to know why. It's best for businesses to not constantly have to redesign products and machines.

Human factors and engineering psychologists understand how people interact with things.

That research is then used to create better processes and products. These products can be anything from a can opener that's easier to use to autopilot programs helping pilots land jets safely.

Industrial and Organizational Psychology

A successful business needs a lot of things, including motivated, well-trained, and committed employees. Industrial and organizational psychologists, often called I/O psychologists, look at individual and group dynamics to find problems in the workplace.

Ergonomics is a subfield of I/O psychology that looks at how people interact with their workplaces and products. This might sound like human factors psychology, and you would be right. Ergonomics is a part of human factors research but can often be incorporated into I/O psychology. For instance, an ergonomic workstation is designed for the person in mind. Things would be placed in a way that is both comfortable and efficient, as well as safe.

How are decisions made? Is communication effective? How do team members work together? Answering these questions requires understanding how human behavior translates to the workplace, which I/O psychologists study.

Sport and Performance Psychology

You might think being good at sports is a purely physical thing. You need strong legs to do well in a race, right? You need a strong mind as well. Several things can impact an athlete's performance. If they got injured in a previous competition, they might be more anxious and less confident in their skills. These nerves might worsen for more high-stakes competitions. Communication between teammates and instructions between coach and team can also be a problem that will make them perform worse.

Sport and performance psychologists take knowledge of human behavior and apply it to people to get better physical prowess and get the best human performance possible. Athletes aren't the only clients, however! Surgeons, first responders, and anyone with a physically tasking job can turn to sports and performance psychologists!

Example of Applied Research in Psychology

In the following text, read more about two examples of applied research in psychology.

Trash at the Happiest Place on Earth

If you go to Disney Land or Disney World, look around and see how many trash cans there are. You'll notice there are quite a few. In fact, each trash can is precisely within 30 feet of another one. They are also within 25 paces from food vendors and booths. Why is this?

When the parks were first conceptualized, Walt Disney himself conducted a psychological study. He wanted to see just how far people would walk to throw something out instead of just throwing it on the ground. The study found that people, at most, would walk 30 feet to a trash can to throw out their garbage. To help make sure the parks stay clean, he decided that trash cans would be installed at 30 feet intervals to ensure that there are always places to dispose of waste, keeping down the amount of litter at the parks!

The Andrea Yates Case

In 2001, a mother of five in Houston, Texas, confessed to drowning her five children in the bathtub. She was given life in prison in 2002 but later found not guilty in 2006. How did this happen?

In the appeal case, expert psychiatric witnesses discussed Andrea Yates' mental health during the infanticide. It was revealed that she suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, postpartum depression, and psychosis. Her current psychiatrist ignored her and her husband's testimonies of delusions and distress, taking Yates off of her current medication after complaints of side effects. Andrea's condition worsened, which, mixed with severe religious delusions from an extremist preacher, led to her drowning her children to save them from "the fires of hell." Given that her actions were not done in a clear, sane state of mind, her previous ruling was overturned, and she was committed to a high-security mental facility.

Applied Research In Psychology - Key takeaways

  • Applied research takes results from studies to solve real-world problems. Basic research is more broad and theoretical but can help provide base knowledge for applied research.

  • External validity, having results that can be translated to other environments outside of the study, is the main challenge for applied research.

  • Ethics, especially informed consent, need to be maintained when conducting applied research.

  • Cognitive psychology uses various tools, including MRI scans, to learn how the brain works.

  • Clinical and counseling psychologists treat mental disorders and troubles a person might be having. Clinical psychology focuses on diagnosing and treating disorders, whereas counseling can be applied to more broad and vague problems a person might be having.

Frequently Asked Questions about Applied Research In Psychology

Applied research takes knowledge gained from studies and uses it for real-world problems and issues.

Psychologists of all kinds use applied research.

The goal is to create a better solution to a proposed, real-world problem.

Problems are real-world and practical, the goal is to find immediate solutions, organization focused.

Applied research is beneficial for solving specific problems in certain settings. However, the research is often unable to be applied outside that setting.

Final Applied Research In Psychology Quiz

Question

What is applied research?

Show answer

Answer

Research that directly focuses on solving a real-world problem.

Show question

Question

What is naturalistic observation?

Show answer

Answer

Observing a specific problem in a real-world environment.

Show question

Question

What do MRI machines do?

Show answer

Answer

Scan the brain to show its structure and abnormalities.

Show question

Question

What is the goal of cognitive psychology?

Show answer

Answer

To understand how the brain works.

Show question

Question

What do climate and environmental psychologists focus on?

Show answer

Answer

How the environment impacts human behavior and how to promote climate-conscious action.

Show question

Question

What do clinical psychologists do?

Show answer

Answer

Assess, diagnose, and treat mental disorders.

Show question

Question

What do counseling psychologists do?

Show answer

Answer

Assess and treat psychological problems and stress, as well as mental disorders.

Show question

Question

How are clinical psychology and counseling psychology different?

Show answer

Answer

Clinical psychologists have their eyes on more severe and long-lasting conditions, whereas counseling psychologists look at the overall well-being of a person.

Show question

Question

What does developmental psychology focus on?

Show answer

Answer

How we grow, adapt, and develop at different life stages.

Show question

Question

What do forensic and public service psychologists do?

Show answer

Answer

Forensic and public service psychology help provide insight on criminal behavior, as well as treat victims of crime.

Show question

Question

What does health & rehabilitation psychology focus on?

Show answer

Answer

Promoting better bodily health through psychology, along with adapting to chronic illness and healing from injuries.

Show question

Question

What is human factors and engineering psychology?

Show answer

Answer

Looking at products and processes to see if they are intuitive to use and conducive to how people use things.  

Show question

Question

What are industrial & organizational psychologists (I/O psychologists) focused on?

Show answer

Answer

Assessing how to help with employee communication, productivity, and satisfaction

Show question

Question

What does sports and performance psychology help people with?

Show answer

Answer

Be more confident in their skills so they can perform their best

Show question

Question

What is external validity?

Show answer

Answer

How much results from research can be applied outside of the testing envrionment.

Show question

Question

What is informed consent?

Show answer

Answer

Knowing what you are agreeing to.

Show question

Question

True/False: participants might feel pressured to partake in an applied research study, especially in a workplace or team.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank:

Survey research combines both ____________ and ___________ evidence. (2 Blanks) 

Show answer

Answer

"qualitative" and "quantitative"

Show question

Question

What is the most crucial factor in survey studies? 

Show answer

Answer

The sampling pool 

Show question

Question

True or False: Sampling pools are the groups of eligible participants for a study, from which the actual participants are selected from. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

True or False: Experiments are validated by other researchers repeating the study. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Annalise is a psychologist and she specializes in reading different brain scans to understand internal changes caused by mental illness. 

What type of psychology is Annalise practicing? 

Show answer

Answer

Brain Science & Cognitive Psychology 

Show question

Question

Samantha is a psychologist and she specializes in researching how companies can become more sustainable so that they can emit fewer greenhouse gasses.  

What type of psychology is Samantha practicing? 

Show answer

Answer

Climate & Environmental Psychology 

Show question

Question

Emily is a psychiatrist and she specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of those with mental illnesses. 

What type of psychology is Emily practicing? 

Show answer

Answer

Clinical Psychology 

Show question

Question

Jacob works as a group counselor and he specializes in leading group therapy for those overcoming addiction.  

What type of psychology is Jacob practicing? 

Show answer

Answer

Counseling Psychology 

Show question

Question

Erika is a psychologist and she specializes in observing the different medical patterns exhibited by the different age groups. 

What type of psychology is Erika practicing? 

Show answer

Answer

Developmental Psychology 

Show question

Question

Derek is a psychologist he has just been called into court to testify if the defendant is "mentally sane". 

What type of psychology is Derek practicing? 

Show answer

Answer

Forensic Psychology  

Show question

Question

Matilda is a psychologist and she specializes in helping veterans adjust to civilian life as well as providing counseling for those with PTSD.

What type of psychology is Matilda practicing? 

Show answer

Answer

Public Service Psychology 

Show question

Question

Max is a psychologist and he specializes in helping companies create workplaces that are suitable for employees to ensure safety and productivity.  

What type of psychology is Max practicing? 

Show answer

Answer

Human Factors & Engineering Psychology 

Show question

Question

Sebastian works in HR (Human Resources) as a psychologist and he specializes in ensuring the dynamics of the different teams are working peacefully and effectively. 

What type of psychology is Sebastian practicing? 

Show answer

Answer

Industrial & Organizational Psychology 

Show question

Question

Andrew works as a psychologist for a private practice, he specializes in helping people find motivation to "restart" their life by living healthier and removing bad habits. 

What type of psychology is Andrew practicing? 

Show answer

Answer

Health Psychology 

Show question

Question

Jennie works as a psychologist for an outpatient facility, she specializes in helping severely injured patients adapt to new changes during their recovery process. 

What type of psychology is Jennie practicing? 

Show answer

Answer

Rehabilitation Psychology 

Show question

Question

Harry works as a psychologist for a famous athletic team. He specializes in helping the athletes improve their overall performance by studying their individual behaviors and habits. What type of psychology is Harry practicing? 

Show answer

Answer

Sport & Performance Psychology 

Show question

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