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What Is Experimental Psychology?

A Closer Look at the Experimental Side of Psychology

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Experimental Psychology

Experimental psychology focuses on using scientific methods to learn more about the mind and behavior.

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Experimental psychology is an area of psychology that utilizes scientific methods to research the mind and behavior. While students are often required to take experimental psychology courses during undergraduate and graduate school, you should really think of this subject as a methodology rather than a singular area within psychology. Many of these techniques are also used by other subfields of psychology to conduct research on everything from childhood development to social issues.

What Do Experimental Psychologists Do?

Experimental psychologists work in a wide variety of settings including colleges, universities, research centers, government and private businesses. Some of these professionals may focus on teaching experimental methods to students, while others conduct research on cognitive processes, animal behavior, neuroscience, personality and many other subject areas.

Those who work in academic settings often teach psychology courses in addition to performing research and publishing their findings in professional journals. Other experimental psychologists work with businesses to discover ways to make employees more productive or to create a safer workplace, a specialty area known as human factors psychology.

The History of Experimental Psychology

  • 1874 - Wilhelm Wundt published the first experimental psychology textbook, Grundzüge der physiologischen Psychologie (Principles of Physiological Psychology).

  • 1875 - William James opened a psychology lab in the United States. The lab was created for the purpose of class demonstrations, rather than to perform original experimental research.

  • 1879 - The first experimental psychology lab was founded in Leipzig, Germany. Modern experimental psychology dates back to the establishment of the very first psychology laboratory by pioneering psychologist Wilhelm Wundt during the late nineteenth century.

  • 1883 - G. Stanley Hall opened the first experimental psychology lab in the United States at John Hopkins University.

  • 1885 - Herman Ebbinghaus published his famous Über das Gedächtnis ("On Memory"), which was later translated to English as Memory. A Contribution to Experimental Psychology. In the work, he described his learning and memory experiments that he conducted on himself.

  • 1887 - George Truball Ladd published his textbook Elements of Physiological Psychology, the first American book to include a significant amount of information on experimental psychology.

  • 1887 - James McKeen Cattell established the world's third experimental psychology lab at University of Pennsylvania.

  • 1890 - William James published his classic textbook, The Principles of Psychology.

  • 1891 - Mary Whiton Calkins established an experimental psychology lab at Wellesley College, becoming the first woman to form a psychology lab.

  • 1893 - G. Stanley Hall established the American Psychological Association, the largest professional and scientific organization of psychologists in the United States.

  • 1920 - John B. Watson and Rosalie Rayner conducted their now famous Little Albert Experiment, in which they demonstrated that emotional reactions could be classically conditioned in people.

  • 1929 - Edwin Boring's book A History of Experimental Psychology was published. Boring was an influential experimental psychologist who was devoted to the use of experimental methods in psychology research.

  • 1955 - Lee Chronbach published Construct Validity in Psychological Tests, which popularized the use of the construct validity in psychological research.

  • 1958 - Harry Harlow published The Nature of Love, which described his experiments with rhesus monkey's on attachment and love.

  • 1961 - Albert Bandura conducted his now-famous Bobo doll experiment, which demonstrated the effects of observation on aggressive behavior.

Methods Used in Experimental Psychology

Experimental psychologists use a variety of different research methods and tools to investigate human behavior. Experimentation remains the basic standard, but other techniques such as case studies, correlational research and naturalistic observation are frequently utilized in psychological research.

The basics of conducting a psychology experiment involve randomly assigning participants to groups, operationally defining variables, developing a hypothesis, manipulating the independent variables and measuring the depending variables.

Learn more about some of the methods frequently used in experimental psychology:

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