Psychology is often defined as the study of the mind and behavior, a very broad topic that is often broken down into a number of different branches of psychology. Each branch is centered on a specific subfield within psychology.
Some psychologists study the functions of the brain and their influence on behavior. Others explore how personality develops and changes over the course of life. Other psychologists are interested in exploring how psychology can improve life in the workplace.
Overview of the Branches of Psychology
Each branch of psychology differs in terms of what it studies and what perspective it typically takes. All of these areas of psychology share the goals to help describe, explain, predict, and sometimes change how people behave and think.
The branches of psychology often tend to focus on one of two areas, although some fields encompass both:
- Basic research: This type of research is focused on contributing our scientific knowledge about the topic.
- Applied research: This type of research is focused on solving problems that exist in the real world.
In order to understand just how broad and deep of s subject psychology truly is, let’s take a closer look at some of the different branches of psychology.
Main Branches of Psychology
Some of the main branches of psychology include:
- Abnormal psychology
- Behavioral psychology
- Biological psychology
- Clinical psychology
- Cognitive psychology
- Community psychology
- Consumer psychology
- Counseling psychology
- Criminal psychology
- Cross-cultural psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Educational psychology
- Engineering psychology
- Environmental psychology
- Evolutionary psychology
- Experimental psychology
- Forensic psychology
- Health psychology
- Humanistic psychology
- Industrial-organizational psychology
- Media psychology
- Military psychology
- Personality psychology
- Positive psychology
- School psychology
- Social psychology
- Sports psychology
Abnormal psychology is a branch of psychology that seeks to identify, understand, and treat behavioral, thought, and emotional patterns that are considered abnormal and maladaptive.
There are different ways of defining what is normal and what is not. In statistical terms, things that are considered abnormal are those that lie outside of what the majority of people experience.
Abnormality can also be defined in terms of functioning. Behaviors that are considered maladaptive and make it difficult to function normally in daily life are often considered abnormal.
Behavioral psychology, also known as behaviorism, is an area of psychology that is devoted to the study of observable behaviors and how learning takes place via conditioning processes.
Biological psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on how biological influences, specifically the brain and nervous system, influence the human mind and behavior.
Biopsychologists often study how brain injury and illness impact normal psychological functioning. This area of psychology also often involves using imaging tools such as MRI and PET scans to look at the brain to determine which areas are activated when particular tasks are performed.
Clinical psychology is a field that is known as one of the single largest areas of employment within psychology. Clinical psychologists typically work directly in mental health treatment and work with patients who experience some form of mental illness, psychological distress, or emotional disturbances.
Cognitive psychology is a branch of psychology concerned with looking at mental processes that underlie behavior including thinking, perception, problem-solving, decision-making, memory, and attention.
Cognitive psychologists use a number of different approaches to study and understand thinking. They often break down knowledge into different units and explore how people process information in the world around them.
Community psychology is a field of psychology devoted to understanding the individual’s relationship with their community as well as how that community fits in with the larger society.
This field often involves psychologists collaborating with community members and local organizations to help create positive changes in the community and address social justice issues.
Professionals who work in this branch of psychology work to identify the factors that cause social problems, such as substance use, inequality, violence, discrimination, and poverty.
Using their knowledge, they design and develop community programs that can help promote mental health, prevent illness, reduce social inequality, and effect positive social change that benefits both individuals and communities.
Consumer psychology is an area of psychology that centers on using psychological principles to understand consumer behavior. Professionals who work in this branch of psychology utilize their knowledge to help businesses understand what motivated consumers to buy products and services.
Consumer psychologists also investigate the different factors that impact consumer behavior. This can include social influences, marketing strategies, product design, emotions, motivation, personality, and situational factors.
Counseling psychology, like clinical psychology, is devoted to the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental health issues. This branch of psychology takes a special focus on functioning in areas related to social, emotional, family, vocational, and developmental well-being.
Counseling psychologists often work with individuals, families, and couples to help them better cope with the problems they are facing. They may use a variety of techniques including talk therapy and other interventions to help people cope with anxiety, depression, stress, and other problems.
Criminal psychology focuses on understanding all aspects and influences of criminal behavior, including the myriad factors that contribute to criminal actions.
Professionals who work in this field study the thoughts, intentions, motivations, emotions, and behaviors of people who commit crimes. Those who work in this field are often called to help with criminal investigations and to testify in criminal cases.
This area of psychology is devoted to studying both similarities and differences in cultures all over the world. Some aspects of human behavior are universal while others are unique to a culture.
By studying these things, professionals are able to better understand how human behavior is influenced by the culture at large.
Developmental psychology focuses on the study of development over the entire course of life. This includes physical, emotional, social, and cognitive growth from the earliest days of infancy into old age. Professionals who work in this field often specialize in working with a particular population such as young children, adolescents, or older adults.
This branch of psychology is concerned with the process of learning. This often involves looking at both behavioral and cognitive methods of learning as well as the motivational, intellectual, and societal factors that impact the learning process.
Educational psychologists their knowledge of learning to develop and evaluate educational programs, materials, and methods. They work to help learners of all ages and abilities achieve their educational goals.
Psychologists who work in this branch of psychology also collaborate with teachers, parents, and administrators to identify and address issues that may be affecting how students learn and perform.
This branch of psychology is an interdisciplinary field that incorporates ergonomics and human-machine interactions. The goal of this field is often to make products and machines that people use regularly more user-friendly and safe.
This area of psychology is about understanding how humans interact with their environments. This could include both natural settings as well as man-made environments.
Professionals who work in this field are often concerned with helping people interact better with her and firemen and creating spaces that are safe and more conducive to well-being.
Evolutionary psychology is a branch of psychology that looks at human thought and behavior from an evolutionary perspective. Researchers who study evolutionary psychology are interested in answering questions about how evolution has shaped human behavior and psychological processes, such as emotion and social cognition.
This branch of psychology is an area concerned with understanding the human condition through the use of experimental methods. Experimental psychologists conduct research on a wide range of subjects including memory, intelligence, sensation, perception, social behavior, emotions, personality, and much more.
Forensic psychology is an area of psychology that utilizes an understanding of the human mind and behavior and applies it to the field of law. Forensic psychologists often perform tasks such as conducting child custody evaluations, assessing competency to stand trial, and testifying in criminal and civil cases.
This is an area of psychology devoted to understanding the psychological and behavioral influences that impact health and well-being. Health psychologists understand that well-being is influenced by both biological factors as well as social and emotional factors.
Professionals who work in this field utilize their knowledge to help both individual patients improve their health and also work in public health programs to improve the health and wellness of communities.
Humanistic psychology is a branch of psychology that emerged during the 1950s as a response to psychoanalysis and behaviorism. In humanistic psychology, you take the approach that all people are inherently good.
This field of psychology takes a more holistic approach and focuses on helping people fulfill their individual potential and achieve self-actualization.
Industrial-organizational psychology is an applied branch of psychology. It involves applying psychological principles to the workplace.
I-O psychologists, as they are often called, are interested in helping organizations by improving employee selection, motivation, workplace performance, productivity, and occupational health.
Media psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on understanding how technology and media influence human cognition, emotion, and behavior. Psychologists who specialize in media psychology investigate how people interact with the internet, social media, television, film, and other mediated communication. They also evaluate how using media can influence attitude formation, beliefs, behaviors, and mental well-being.
This branch of psychology is devoted to using psychological principles in military settings. Some professionals who work in this field treat soldiers who have served in the military, while others conduct research designed to help improve military operations and increase the chances of success in combat settings.
Personality psychology is a large area of psychology interested in the development of personality. Researchers in this field are interested in understanding the many forces that influence how personality develops and is expressed. They are also interested in learning more about how personality changes over the course of life.
This is a relatively young branch of psychology centered on helping people live better lives. One of the key goals of this area of psychology is to help people become happier.
He believed that by bringing these unconscious motivations into awareness, people could find relief from psychological problems.
This field of psychology is devoted to helping students deal with academic, social, emotional, and behavioral issues that they face in school settings. These professionals after work with individual students as well as parents, educators, and school administrators.
This branch of psychology is interested in how people’s though, behaviors, and emotions are influenced by other people. Group behavior, attitudes, aggression, conformity, obedience, persuasion, group dynamics, and attraction are just some of the major areas of interest in social psychology.
This is a branch centered on the psychology of sport and exercise. Professionals who work in this field might help people overcome injury as well as work with professional athletes to improve motivation and focus.
Reasons to Learn About the Branches of Psychology
As you can see from looking at the list above, there are many different branches and subfields of psychology to explore. But this is not all. Psychology is always growing and adapting to meet new needs.
In a shifting world, new demands for psychologists and psychological information will continue to drive the growth of new branches of psychology.
Online psychology, traffic psychology, spiritual psychology, and aviation psychology are just a few different fields that have sprung up in recent years. By learning more about these many branches of psychology, you can gain a greater understanding of the many topics that psychology tackles.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the two main branches of psychology?
The two main areas of psychology are basic science and applied psychology. Basic science is an area that focuses on expanding fundamental knowledge and theoretical understanding of psychological processes. The purpose of basic science is to add to the body of scientific knowledge. Applied psychology, on the other hand, focuses on taking what we have learned through basic research and applying it in the real world to solve problems and improve people’s lives.
How many branches of psychology exist?
The number of psychology branches and subfields varies depending on how they are categorized. Just counting the most prominent branches, there are more than 20 distinct branches of psychology, but other counts suggest far more. Wikipedia’s list of psychology branches, for example, currently identifies more than 90 distinct subfields.
What branches of psychology are the largest?
Clinical psychology is the largest individual branch of psychology. Clinical psychologists work in hospitals, mental health clinics, and private practice. Counseling psychology and school psychology are also popular fields of psychology.
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Kendra Cherry, MS.Ed., is an author, educator, and founder of Explore Psychology, an online psychology resource. She is a health writer and editor specializing in psychology, mental health, and wellness. She also writes for Verywell Mind and is the author of the Everything Psychology book (Adams Media).
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