Branches of Psychology (2024)

Psychology is a science in which behavioral and other evidence is used to understand the mind and behavior of humans (Eysenck, 2004).

It encompasses various aspects of human behavior, such as thought, emotions, cognition, personality, social behavior, and brain function.

Throughout the years, people have used multiple research methods to understand this complicated subject, and have divided this subject into various branches to better study human behavior. So far, there can be as many as 22 branches of psychology.

Branches of Psychology (1)

To better categorize the branches of psychology, this article will be dividing the branches into basic and applied psychology (Guilford & Anastasi, 1950).

  1. Basic psychology, or theoretical psychology, aims to extend and improve human knowledge.

    Basic psychology aims to discover or establish instances of universal similarity and trace their origin or development to explain their causal connections.

  2. Applied psychology, or practical psychology, aims to extend and improve the condition and phases of human life and conduct.

    Its goal is to analyze responses and situations and create interventions to address real-life concerns and challenges individuals face (Thomas, 2022).

However, it is crucial to remember that psychology classification could vary, and many psychologists work in both basic and applied psychology sections throughout their careers.

Moreover, basic and applied fields of psychology complement one another, and together help form a deeper understanding of human mind and behavior.

Table of Contents

Basic Psychology

Basic psychology seeks to understand the fundamental principles of behavior and mind, focusing on generating knowledge. It seeks to answer the question “Why does this occur?”.

1. Biological psychology

The origin of biological psychology is greatly influenced by “Origin of Species” written by Charles Darwin, whose views on evolution greatly impacted the psychological world.

Psychologists started analyzing the role of heredity in influencing human behavior. Biological psychology focuses on studying physiological processes within the human body, often including the study of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers that transmit messages from one neuron to the next) and hormones.

One approach used in biological psychology is studying how different sets of genes influence behavior, personality, and intelligence.

Twin studies – the study of monozygotic twins with the exact set of genes and the study of dizygotic twins who share half of each other’s genomes – are often used for this purpose.

The biological branch of psychology is especially important because processes studied by it are virtually involved in almost all human behavior (Eysenck, 2004).

2. Abnormal psychology

Abnormal psychology is also known as psychopathology. It focuses on understanding the causes, treatment, and nature of mental disorders, and helps produce effective therapy for patients who have mental disorders, such as Major Depressive Disorder, Autism, Schizophrenia, and much more (Hooley et al., 2019).

This is considered basic psychology because understanding the etiology of a mental health condition can help applied psychologists develop effective interventions.

In the past, the treatment of people who deviated from the norm involved brutal treatments such as trephination and exorcism that aimed to “drive away” the evil spirits that people claimed to be possessing the ill.

Patients were kept in the bedlams inside asylums, and most people with mental illness died tragically. The development of psychoanalysis, CBT, and mindfulness-based therapies, has led to improvements in therapy and reduced the pain and suffering of patients (Eysenck, 2004).

3. Cognitive Psychology

The study of cognitive psychology focuses on the process of thinking. It includes areas such as memory, problem-solving, learning, attention, and language.

This approach to psychology is important because the human brain is tied to multiple other branches of psychology, such as social, abnormal, and developmental psychology.

Theoretical topics of cognitive psychology would include the study of memory, perception, attention, etc.

Moreover, the insights provided by cognitive psychologists have led to profound impacts on the development of practical applications across diverse fields, whereby professionals from unrelated domains effectively utilized this knowledge to create things such as computer and gaming systems that are easy for humans to use.

The study of cognitive psychology also benefited the well-being of many patients who experienced brain damage, and they were able to get surgery to regain back some of their lost cognitive skills (Eysenck, 2004).

4. Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology studies how individuals change over time, especially during the childhood period.

Psychologists spend decades studying people’s childhood development of thinking processes and behavioral changes, looking at how childhood experiences may impact adult behavior.

It includes topics such as the physical, cognitive, emotional, and social changes that occur from infancy to elderly life.

This branch is essential to helping children develop good social skills and address developmental challenges, as well as understanding factors influencing adult behaviors (Eysenck, 2004).

5. Behavioral Psychology

Behaviorism, also known as behavioral learning theory, is a theoretical perspective in psychology that emphasizes the role of learning and observable behaviors in understanding human and animal actions.

Behaviorism is a theory of learning that states all behaviors are learned through conditioned interaction with the environment. Thus, behavior is simply a response to environmental stimuli.

The behaviorist theory is only concerned with observable stimulus-response behaviors, as they can be studied in a systematic and observable manner.

Some of the key figures of the behaviorist approach include B.F. Skinner, known for his work on operant conditioning, and John B. Watson, who established the psychological school of behaviorism.

6. Social Psychology

Social psychology covers numerous topics that focus on society as a whole, including the observation and study of social behavior and intergroup relations.

Topics would include things such as the study of attitudes, social influences, prejudice, etc. Humans are known to be social animals that interact with one another.

Every day we encounter different people and must use social knowledge to make sense of the social group that we are all living in and make decisions.

Social psychology is thus used to reveal the many biases and misconceptions humans have, as well as how people’s behaviors are deeply influenced by one another (Eysenck, 2004).

7. Comparative Psychology

Comparative psychology is the study of similarities and differences between humans and animals. It is said to be originated by George Romanes, a British psychologist who wrote “Animal Intelligence” in 1882.

In short, it compares humans with other animals, including both qualitative and quantitative observations.

It is especially useful to use animal models to study behaviors and psychological phenomena because they may otherwise be challenging or unethical to study in humans.

Animal models provide researchers with a way to examine the effects of stress, addiction, learning, and memory on behavior.

Since animals may function in similar ways as humans, psychologists study animals and draw analogies with human beings to arrive at conclusions (Greenberg, 2012). Famous studies of comparative psychology would include Harlow’s monkeys and Lorenz’s geese.

8. Experimental Psychology

Experimental psychology encompasses the scientific research methods that other branches of psychology rely on. Psychologists use a scientific approach to understanding behavior, and their findings are based on scientific evidence accumulated through research.

Examples of what is involved in an experiment would be the different types of research methods (qualitative versus quantitative), the use of data analysis, correlation and causation, and hypothesis testing.

It is generally said to emerge as a branch of psychology in the 19th century led by Wilhelm Wundt, who introduced mathematical expressions and calculations into the psychology field (Boring, 1950).

This is important because humans’ commonsense beliefs about behaviors are unreliable, and the explanations derived from them could be deceiving.

Experimental psychology ensures that psychological conclusions are not limited in their accuracy and generalizability (Myers & Hansen, 2011).

9. Child Psychology

Child psychology examines the developmental changes within the different domains of child development (Hetherington et al., 1999).

It first started with Jean Piaget, a French psychologist whose research interests were highly focused on child development, including how they think, acquire knowledge, and interact with those around them (Schwartz, 1972).

It primarily focuses on the understanding of children’s emotional, cognitive, social, and behavioral development during these early stages of life.

Child psychology also assesses and diagnoses developmental disorders or psychological conditions that may affect children and provide interventions and treatments to support their psychological well-being and development.

10. Cross-Cultural Psychology

Cross-Cultural Psychology is a branch of psychology that studies how cultural factors influence human behavior, thoughts, and emotions.

It examines psychological differences and similarities across various cultures and ethnic groups, aiming to understand how cultural context can shape individual and group psychological processes.

This branch helps highlighting the universal and culture-specific aspects of psychological functioning (Malpass, 1977).

11. Personality Psychology

The personality branch of psychology studies the patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that make an individual unique. It explores the traits and characteristics that define a person’s temperament, interactions, and consistent behaviors across various situations.

Theories in this field range from Freud’s psychoanalytic perspective to trait theories and humanistic approaches.

The goal is to understand the complexities of individual differences, the factors that shape personality development, and how personality influences life outcomes.

The Big Five and Myers-Briggs are both models used to describe and measure personality traits, but they differ significantly in their origins, components, and scientific validation:

  1. The Big Five: Often referred to as the Five-Factor Model, it identifies five broad dimensions of personality: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (often remembered by the acronym OCEAN). This model is backed by extensive empirical research and is widely accepted in the academic community.
  2. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI): This typological approach categorizes individuals into 16 personality types based on four dichotomies: Extraversion/Introversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling, and Judging/Perceiving.

Applied psychology

Applied psychology takes these foundational understandings and applies them to solve real-world problems, enhancing well-being and performance in various settings. Applied psychology asks “How can we use this knowledge practically?”.

12. Clinical Psychology

The American Psychological Association defines clinical psychology as a field of psychology that “integrates science, theory, and practice to understand, predict, and alleviate maladjustment, disability, and discomfort as well to promote human adaptation, adjustment, and personal development” (American Psychological Association, Division 12, 2012).

In simplified terms, it is a branch of psychology focusing on understanding mental illness and looking for the best ways of providing care for individuals, families, and groups.

Through strong research, clinical psychologists offer ongoing and comprehensive mental and behavioral healthcare for individuals, couples, families, and all sorts of different groups.

They also provide consultation services to agencies and communities, as well as training, education, supervision, and research-based practice.

The work of a clinical psychologist thus includes assessing patients’ health status, performing psychotherapy, teaching, researching, consulting, and more (Kramer et al., 2019). The branch would also understand the diagnostic criteria of mental illness.

13. Educational Psychology

Educational psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on understanding how people learn and develop in educational settings.

It uses psychological science to enhance the learning process of students and applies psychological findings to promote educational success in a classroom (Lindgren & Suter, 1967).

Educational psychologists do things such as improve teaching techniques, develop specialized learning materials, and monitor educational outcomes.

Psychologists have argued that education is a tripolar process involving the interaction between the educator and the student, as well as the educator and the student understanding oneself and acting accordingly in an educational or social setting.

The social environment, on the other hand, provides subtle influences on both sides. Educational psychology aims to understand and enhance education through understanding these interactions (Aggarwal, 2010).

Under this branch of psychology, there is also school psychology. School psychology is defined as the general practice of psychology involving learners of all ages, and the process of schooling.

For instance, psychological assessments, interventions, and preventions, as well as mental health promotion programs focusing on the development processes of youth in the context of the school system are all considered to be part of school psychology.

School psychologists access the school environment to ensure and promote positive learning outcomes for youth, and ensure healthy psychological development of students.

Other than students, they also support the families, teachers, and other professionals who work to support the students (Merrell et al., 2011).

14. Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychology is defined as a holistic healthcare specialty that employs diverse information (such as culture) and methodologies (such as motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioral therapy) to enhance an individual’s mental well-being and reduce maladaptive behaviors.

The aim is to help individuals cope with various life challenges, emotions, mental health symptoms, etc. People who seek counseling explore their thoughts and behaviors with a counselor and seek to improve their wellbeing and develop coping strategies.

Counseling psychologists work with people of all cultural backgrounds, and conduct activities such as crisis intervention, trauma management, diagnosing mental disorders, treatment evaluation, and consulting (Oetting, 1967).

15. Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology is the branch of applied psychology that focuses on collecting, examining, and presenting evidence for judicial purposes.

Psychologists in this branch work on court cases in assessing behavioral problems and psychological disorders in criminal profiles, determining the mental status of criminals, and whether or not compensation could be awarded for “psychological damage”.

Researchers in this branch also investigate false confessions and psychological vulnerabilities in criminals, together with methods of improving societal bias and police practice (Gudjonsson & Haward, 2016).

16. Health Psychology

Health psychology has been widely defined using Matarazzo’s definition, summarized as any activity of psychology that involves any aspect of health or the healthcare system.

It includes areas ranging from prevention to treatment of illness and the analysis and diagnosis of health-related dysfunctions. It often promotes healthy lifestyles and disease prevention.

Health psychology emphasizes the health system and how patients as well as psychologists interact within the system, having the goal of optimizing communication and treatment at the same time.

Health psychologists look at problems such as the cost of healthcare, chronic psychological illness, as well as political and economic needs (Feuerstein et al., 1986).

This is different from clinical psychology, which concentrates more on treating and diagnosing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, providing therapy and strategies for managing mental health issues.

17. Sports Psychology

Sports psychology is in general seen as a field of study where principles of psychology are used or applied to sport. In history, many different perspectives have been taken in determining the definition of sports psychology.

For example, when seen as a branch of psychology, this study focuses on understanding psychological theories when applied to sports.

When seen more as a subdiscipline of sport science, this branch of psychology focuses on enhancing and explaining behavior in the sports context (Horn, 2008).

Overall, sports psychology is crucial in optimizing athletes’ performance by addressing their sports’ emotional and physical aspects, such as arousal regulation, pre-performance routines, goal-setting techniques, etc.

18. Community Psychology

Community psychology focuses on thinking about human behavior within the context of a community.

It requires a shift in perspective since it operates to prevent a problem from occurring and promoting healthy functioning for the community rather than treating individual problems after they arise.

Research under this branch examines factors on the macro neighborhood and community level that either enhances or impedes the psychological health of a community rather than internal psychological processes of an individual (Kloos, 2012).

19. Industrial-organizational psychology

Industrial-organizational psychology is the branch of psychology that studies how principles of psychology act on human beings who are operating within the business and industry context.

The definition has evolved over time to include more wide-ranged work-related topics, and looks at interactions between people and institutions.

Psychologists in this field center around enhancing productivity, staff well-being, and organizational work performance.

They utilize scientific methodologies and concepts to tackle workplace predicaments such as staff recruitment, training, appraisal, inspiration, job contentment, and workplace culture (Forces, 2003).

20. Family Psychology

Family psychology is considered a clinical science that focuses on discovering the truth behind families and the individuals inside them while improving the well-being of families.

It includes research in biological systems such as how genetics contributes to mental disorders and larger scopes of how community resources could be used to strengthen family relationships.

Through understanding family dynamics and supporting family relationships, this branch of psychology helps families navigate the complexities that arise in their relationships, promoting healthy relationships and overall wellbeing (Pinsof & Lebow, 2005).

21. Media Psychology

Media psychology refers to the use of psychology in the usage and production of media.

It includes areas such as making new technologies more user-friendly, using media to enhance clinical psychology, and studying how media may contribute to sociological and psychological phenomena in society (Luskin & Friedland, 1998).

The field has also evolved to include more emerging technologies and applications, such as interactive media, internet, and video games.

22. Environmental Psychology

Environmental psychology looks at the interrelationship between human behavior and environments. It examines how people’s behavior, emotions, and well-being are influenced by natural and built surroundings, such as homes, workplaces, urban spaces, and natural landscapes.

With models in the psychological field in mind, environmental psychologists work to protect, manage, and design environments that enhance human behavior, and diagnose any problems that occur in the process.

Some common topics have included the effects of environmental stress on human performance and how humans process information in an unfamiliar environment (De Young, 1999).


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Branches of Psychology (2024)
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