The Psychology Taxonomy: Academic Psychology

One may find the need to explicitly label certain fields of psychology as “academic” somewhat unnecessary. One may ask next:”Are you implying that some parts of psychology are not academic?”

Thats not quite it. Every about psychology, applied or research, is founded on academia (if you didn’t know this, you cannot practice without studying it!). What I (and several textbook writers) call academic psychology refer to the fields of psychology that are mainly covered by textbook. This category covers those subfields of psychology that are more elementary and students have to go through them in psychology undergraduate programs worldwide. On their own, without involving knowledge from other subfields and disciplines along with technical skills, academic psychology cannot be “applied” and be part of one’s career, unless one chooses to teach or/and become a psychologist who decides to conduct research on these fields. But nonetheless, knowledge from these fields often serves as foundations for applied and professional fields of psychology.

Academic Psychology 

Biopsychology and Neuropsychology

Biopsychology is a major branch of psychology directly born from the biological perspective, that examines the biological basis of our thoughts and behavior, a general mix of psychology and physiology. This branch mainly covers the topics on the nervous system such as neurons, neurotransmitter, action potential, central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, endocrinology, brain structure, sensation, and perception, along with introductory neurotechnology.

Normally synonymous to biopsychologiy, neuropsychology can be considered a more in-depth subfield of biopsychology as it exclusively studies the relationship between the nervous system.and our psychological processes including cognitive, behavioral, and emotional ones and is much more concerned with diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders. In contrast, biopsychology often just aim to offer explanation about how psychological processes have biological basis. However both names are often considered the one and the same, just expect topics under neuropsychology to be more specific, deep, and have more applied aspects while biopsychology topics are 100% research oriented.

Cognitive Psychology

Cognition means “thought” or “knowing”, which falls under the realm of cognitive psychology, the psychology of thinking, feeling, and knowing. The study focuses on the way we process information: the way we organize information, make sense out of, and communicating that to others. Cognitive psychology is also tightly knit with the behavioral perspective as it covers the way we process stimulus (which essentially means raw information) and how we respond to that. The topics that will be studied under this field includes memory, emotion, attention, problem-solving, language, cognitive neuroscience, and computer analogical models.

Social Psychology

Social psychology is a broad field of psychology that seeks to understand and explain human behavior in a social context. Scientific methods are employed to study social interactions, why these interactions happen, and how does these interactions affect others.  Social psychology borrows ideas from sociology, resulting in broad topics covered under this field, which include: social cognition, social influence, discrimination, prejudice, violence, and interpersonal relationships. 

Individual Differences/Personality Psychology/Differential Psychology

Individual differences tries to answer the question “How are we different?”. While the previous specializations of psychology attempts to generate theories from generalizing them to a population or based on generalizable biological traits, differential psychology sees each individual as unique and complex. Differential psychology not just examines personalities, but also motivation, intelligence, talents, values, self-concept, and self-esteem, and how all of these makes us different, and at the same time, similar.

Abnormal Psychology

Abnormal psychology emphasizes on unusual thought and behavior. By first trying to understand and drawing blurred lines on what is “normal”, what is “somewhat normal”, and what is “clinically abnormal”, abnormal psychology focuses on studying the symptoms, causes, and implication of abnormal behavior and highlighting behaviors that can be potentially psychological disorders. Areas in abnormal psychology include classifications of disorders, different models of abnormal behavior, psychological treatments and therapies.

Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology takes on a unique approach to psychology where behavior and mindset of human beings are assumed to change over the course of their life. This requires us to see children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly differently through a mix of biological, cognitive, and sociocultural lenses, and allow us look into the nature vs nurture debate in greater detail. The topics covered under this field includes various theories of development, prenatal development, genetic inheritance, aging, nature and nurture, moral development, motor skills, language acquisition, and self-concept development, just to name a few.   

History of Psychology

Not exactly a psychology field (thankfully “psychology of history” isn’t a big thing yet), but significant enough to be brought up since psychology researchers often dig into the past to find out what past researchers have been doing before starting their own study. It is simply about how this field came to being. Very few science courses make it mandatory for students to understand the history of their respective fields, but due to various perspectives and schools of thinking present in the field pf psychology, a run through of how the field came into being is rather useful as it gives students examples of the thinking our predecessors went through to develop psychological theories, definitions, and approaches. It also gives students a good scope of what psychology exactly entails. It is often taught in most of the first classes of introductory psychology, and occasionally taught as a separate subject, of the more storytelling variety, although students may be expected to make critical remarks on certain events..

Research Methods & Experimental Psychology

Psychological research have two approaches, quantitative psychology and qualitative psychology. These two approaches are further divided into many more methods, some which use strictly statistical mathematical methods (for more scientific and empirical data), some use more naturalistic methods (for more descriptive and textural data) such as interviews, the others employ methods that are a mix of both.

Experimental psychology is a major branch of quantitative psychology (to the extent that there are postgraduate degrees dedicated for it) which teaches strictly experimental methods in the various fields of psychology for data. Experimental psychology can be employed in almost all fields of psychology which includes the 6 basic academic fields mentioned above and often taught is most universities as a huge part of research methods and bits of it in other related psychology subjects

Psychological Testing/Psychometrics

Psychologists understand others (personality, cognitive capability, abnormality) through a series of testing methods, collectively known as psychological testing, also known as psychometrics. Psychological testing forms the foundations of how a psychologist is going to extract psychological data of the present from individuals and is often employed as part of quantitative or mixed methods psychology research. The topics covered include: assessment of intelligence, personality assessments, behavioral assessments, and clinical interviewing. At a higher level, this subject would also teach the methods of actually create and develop a psychological test. 

That is for now, the next post will entail the next category: popular psychology.


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