The Psychology Taxonomy: Popular Psychology and Special Topics

The attempt to “sort out” or categories psychology fields was way more overwhelming then I initially thought. My tendency to be meticulous and all-encompassing conflicted strongly with my personal preference of keeping things readable, generalizable, and mobilizable.

One objective of The Psychology Taxonomy is to provide accurate distinction between popular psychology, academic psychology, and professional-occupational psychology. Academic psychology is the fundamental institution, born from the overlaps of many other fields and schools of thought, and form the core subjects students will have to learn before learning to apply them. There is no job demand for academic psychology outside academia or any research institution. Professional-occupational is born from the job demands, which is then supplied by postgraduate programs which teaches students on how to apply academic psychology concepts into the relevant careers, supplemented by soft skills and technical knowledge from other disciplines that are not necessarily psychology.

Popular psychology and special topics is harder to distinguish (partly because I pulled it out of thin air after reading All About Psychology and disagreeing with certain parts of it), they are not incredibly important but are considered “significant areas of inquiry”, popular even to layperson audience, and often taught as electives at undergraduate level. They come in many forms: some are deeply elaborated subtopics from academic psychology, others are just younger or rarer fields of applied professional psychology. These topics are often narrowed down to a specific subject of interest, then taught using knowledge from various academic psychology fields.       


Psychodynamics studies the states of consciousness and the psychological forces within them. It often abandons the scientific approach and is based on more qualitative accounts but strives to study methods of uncovering the underlying cognitions. Recently it encourages students to study it in relation with modern biological, abnormal, and cognitive psychology.

Related to: counseling and psychotherapy, abnormal psychology, biopsychology, cognitive psychology  

Counseling and Psychotherapy

This is actually a major field in counseling and clinical psychology (in applied psychology in an upcoming post), but I thought this is worth mentioning at this category because counseling and psychotherapy are not strictly for psychologists only (social workers, therapists, psychiatrists, & counselors). This field would cover techniques and theories for counseling, along with types of psychotherapy: humanistic, cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic, and holistic psychotherapy.

Related to: counseling and clinical psychology, psychodynamics, cognitive psychology  

Behavioral Genetics

Specifically studies the role of genetic inheritance and environmental factors on behavior.

Related to: developmental psychology, biopsychology, evolutionary psychology, individual differences, comparative psychology 

Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse

Psychopharmacology studies effects of medicine, often psychedelic drugs in particular, on psychological functions, including emotions, consciousness, sensation, cognition, and behavior. Substance abuse is a significant subtopic of psychopharamcology, which discusses irresponsible usage of drugs and practical implications of substance abuse, and how to work against it.

Related to: biopsychology, abnormal psychology, cognitive psychology 


Psychophysics originally study the physics of perception and sensation using quantitative methods. These measuring methods involve relating a physical stimulus to a particular sensation through establishing scales and thresholds, which can be applied to other subfields in psychology.

Related to: biopsychology, cognitive psychology  


The psychology of language, psycholinguistics studies the factors that enable us learn, understand, and use language from a psychological and biological perspective.

Related to: developmental psychology, educational psychology, cognitive psychology, biopsychology

Behavioral Economics/Economic Psychology

Economic psychology studies reasoning and decision-making in relation with economics. Subtopics include consumer behavior, financial behavior, negotiation and bargaining.

Related to: social psychology, cognitive psychology 

Positive Psychology

The rapidly growing study of happiness and positivity. This field attempts to scientifically answer “What makes life worth living?” using psychological approaches and focuses on personal growth.

Related to: cognitive psychology, differential psychology, developmental psychology

Transpersonal Psychology

A school of psychology that emphasizes spirituality and transcendence of the individual, which is often then applied in counseling or psychotherapy. Note that transpersonal psychology differs from psychology of religion in very subtle ways (like how spirituality is different from religiosity) and can seem like an extension of positive and humanistic psychology.

Related to: psychology of belief systems, positive psychology, psychodynamics   

Psychology of Morality

Psychology of morality ventures deep into philosophy from a psychological point of view. The focus of the study is on moral development, with subtopics covering: altruism, responsibility, moral reasoning and judgment, moral luck, and most notably, ethics.

Related to: cognitive psychology, psychodynamics, developmental psychology  

Psychology of Belief Systems/Religion

Psychology of belief systems studies and interprets religiosity (or lack thereof) using psychological approaches. It attempts to describe religious phenomenon in psychological terms and examine the effects. The idea is to provide evidence for religious effects instead of religious constructs (which cannot be proven).

Related to: transpersonal psychology, cognitive psychology, social psychology

Psychology of The Self

A branch of cognitive psychology, psychology of self studies the identify of an individual and the subjective experiences but represented with an objective structure. The interests of study include self-concept, self-esteem, self-perception, and self-knowledge.

Related to: psychodynamics, positive psychology, cognitive psychology 

Psychology of Art

This field studies our cognitive processes and aesthetic experiences during the creation and appreciation of aesthetics and other creative works. Specific subfields include psychology of film, psychology of dance, psychology of music, and abstract art. University usually teach one of these subfields as an entire subject instead of psychology of art as a whole.

Related: cognitive psychology, differential psychology  

Psychology of Science

Not the science of psychology, but rather the other way round. This topic investigates the thought processes behind scientific thought, attitude, and behavior and covers the philosophy, history, and sociology of science.

Related: social psychology, cognitive psychology

Psychology of Music

The psychological study of musical behavior and experience, which studies effects of music listening, composition of music, music therapy, and evaluation of music.

Related: cognitive psychology, psychotherapy

Psychology of Risk/Risk Perception

Psychology of risks focuses on human decision making and evaluation in the context of threats and potential hazards, such as nuclear powering, greenhouse effect, public security, and even war.

Related: cognitive psychology, social psychology, biological psychology

Psychology of Sleep

The study of understanding the habit of sleeping and dreaming from a psychological perspective. Topics covered include Rapid Eye Movement, sleeping disorders, effects of sleeping, and neural activity during sleep.

Related: biopsychology, evolutionary psychology

Evolutionary Psychology

Evolutionary psychology is a perspective that explains human behavior using the theory of biological evolution, where it seeks to identify adaptive traits that are psychological in nature. This assumes that our behavior and thoughts follow the rules of evolution by natural selection.

Related: biopsychology, cognitive psychology, social psychology 

Comparative Psychology

Also known as animal psychology, this subfield seeks to draw parallels between humans and non-human animals minds and behavior, to find out similarity and differences, ranging from small insects to cognitively developed primates and dolphins.

Related: evolutionary psychology, biopsychology  

Psychology of Gender Differences and Intimacy

This field examines our biological genders in relation with gender role, gender identity, non-heterosexuality, sex appeal along with sexual relationships critically. Gender psychology usually take skeptical approaches to known assumptions about the differences between male and female genders to uncover more topics and theories.

Related: social psychology

Cultural and Cross-cultural Psychology

Cultural psychology is a interdisciplinary approach of studying how culture influences and shapes human behavior, which covers sociology and ethnology.

Cross-cultural psychology operates differently by examining similarity and differences in psychological traits and behaviors across diverse range of cultures. Knowledge from this field can be used to find out the universality of psychological processes and testing methods.  

Related: social psychology, cognitive psychology 

Mathematical Psychology and Cognitive Modeling

Mathematical psychology and cognitive modeling might sound distinct, but they deal with the same area of inquiry: quantitative research methods such as modeling and testing for psychological phenomenon such as thought processes. It is distinguishable from psychometrics, which seek to identify individual differences and predict individual behavior, as mathematical psychology deals with mathematical models, formulas, and statistics to predict behavior of a population or a average person through experiments and other quantitative methods. In essence, mathematical psychology attempts to quantify psychological concepts and behavior.

Related: cognitive psychology, psychometrics, experimental psychology

This was extremely tedious but I am done for now. Note that “popular psychology” is never ending as more and more psychology topics are popping into the mainstream as I type. But I do not see myself updating this list here to keep up so just take this as a testament of the endless possibilities that is contained within this field.

Next and possibly last post on The Psychology Taxonomy will be on professional applied psychology.


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