How Different Branches of Psychology Study the Brain and Behavior (2023)

Psychology is such a broad field that conveying its depth and breadth can be difficult. As a result, a number of unique and distinctive branches of psychology have emerged, each one dealing with a specific subtopic within the study of the mind, brain, and behavior. The major branches of psychology include:

  • Abnormal psychology
  • Behavioral psychology
  • Biopsychology
  • Clinical psychology
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Comparative psychology
  • Counseling psychology
  • Cross-cultural psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Educational psychology
  • Experimental psychology
  • Forensic psychology
  • Health psychology
  • Industrial-organizational psychology
  • Personality psychology
  • School psychology
  • Social psychology
  • Sports psychology

Understanding what these subtopics represent can help you decide where your interests may lie. Here is more information about the 18 major types of psychology if you are interested in studying, earning your degree, or creating a career in this expansive field.

Overview of the Branches of Psychology

Each of the branches or types of psychologylook at questions and problems from a differentperspective. While they all have their own focus, they still share a common goal of studying and explaining human thought and behavior.

Because human behavior is so varied, the number of subfields in psychology is constantly growing and evolving. Some of these subfields have been firmly established as areas of interest, and many colleges and universities offer courses and degree programs in these topics.

Each type of psychology represents a specific area of study focused on a particular topic. Oftentimes, psychologists specialize in one of these as a career. The following are just some of the major branches of psychology. For many of these, working in that specific area requires graduate study in that particular field.

Psychology can be roughly divided into two major areas:

  1. Research,which seeks to increase our knowledge base
  2. Practice, through which our knowledge is applied to solving problems in the real world

Abnormal Psychology

Abnormal psychology looks at psychopathology and abnormal behavior. It involves the study of people's emotional, thought, and behavior patterns to identify, understand, and potentially resolve any issues that may be negatively affecting a person's life.

Mental health professionals in this branch of psychology assess, diagnose, and treat a wide variety of psychological disorders, including anxiety and depression. Counselors, clinical psychologists, and psychotherapists often work directly in this field.

Behavioral Psychology

Behavioral psychology, also known as behaviorism, is a theory of learning based on the idea that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning. Behavioral strategies such as classical conditioning and operant conditioning are often utilized to teach or modify behaviors.

For example, a teacher might use a rewards system to teach students to behave during class. When students are good, they receive gold stars, which can then be turned in for some sort of special privilege.

While this type of psychology dominated the field during the first part of the twentieth century, it became less prominent during the 1950s. However, behavioral techniques remain a mainstay in therapy, education, and many other areas.


Biopsychology is a branch of psychology focused on how the brain, neurons, and nervous system influence thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This field draws upon many different disciplines, including basic psychology, cognitive psychology, experimental psychology, biology, physiology, and neuroscience.

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People who work in this type of psychology often study how brain injuries and brain diseases impact human behavior.

Biopsychology is also sometimes referred to as physiological psychology, behavioral neuroscience, or psychobiology. So, if you are interested in studying or earning a degree in this psychology branch, you may want to look for courses or programs with these names.

Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychologyis thebranch of psychologyconcerned with the assessment and treatment ofmental illness,abnormal behavior,and psychiatric disorders. Clinicians often work in private practices, but many also work in community centers or at universities and colleges.

You can even find clinical psychology professionals in hospital settings and mental health clinics. In these organizations, they often work as part of a collaborative team that may include physicians, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals.

Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology is the branch of psychology that focuses on internal mental states. This area has continued to grow since it emerged in the 1960s and is centered on the science of how people think, learn, and remember.

Professionals who work in this type of psychology typically study cognitive functions such as perception, motivation, emotion, language, learning, memory, attention, decision-making, and problem-solving.

Cognitive psychologists often use an information-processing model to describe how the mind works, suggesting that the brain stores and processes information much like a computer.

Comparative Psychology

Comparative psychology is the branch of psychology concerned with the study of animal behavior. This is important because the study of how animals behave can lead to a deeper and broader understanding of human psychology.

This psychology subtype has its roots in the work of researchers such as Charles Darwin and George Romanes and has grown into a highly multidisciplinary subject. In addition to psychologists contributing to this field, so do biologists, anthropologists, ecologists, geneticists, and several others.

Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychology is one of the largest branches of psychology. It is centered on treating clients in mental distress who may be experiencing a wide variety of psychological symptoms.

The Society of Counseling Psychology explains that professionals working in this type of psychology can improve their clients' interpersonal functioning throughout life. They do this by improving the client's social and emotional health, as well as addressing concerns about health, work, family, marriage, and more.

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Cross-Cultural Psychology

Cross-cultural psychology is a branch of psychology that looks at how cultural factors influence human behavior. This may involve looking at differences between collective and individualist cultures, for instance. Cross-cultural psychologists might also look at how cultures vary in terms of emotion, personality, or child development.

The International Association of Cross-Cultural Psychology (IACCP) was established in 1972. This type of psychology has continued to grow and develop since that time, with increasing numbers of psychologists investigating how behavior differs among cultures throughout the world.

Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology focuses on how people change and grow throughout life. This branch of psychology seeks to understand and explain how and why people change. Developmental psychologists study physical growth, intellectual development, emotional changes, social growth, and perceptual changes that occur over the course of the lifespan.

These types of psychologists may specialize in infant, child, adolescent, or geriatric development, while others might primarily study theeffects of developmental delays. This psychology branch covers a huge range of topics, ranging fromprenatal developmentto Alzheimer's disease.

Educational Psychology

Educational psychology is the branch of psychology concerned with schools, teaching psychology, educational issues, and student concerns. Educational psychologists often study how students learn. They may also work directly with students, parents, teachers, and administrators to improve student outcomes.

Professionals in this type of psychology sometimes study how different variables influence individual students. They may also study learning disabilities, giftedness, and the instructional process.


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Experimental Psychology

Experimental psychology is the branch of psychology that utilizes scientific methods to research the brain and behavior. Many of these techniques are also used in other psychology areas to study everything from childhood development to social issues.

This type of psychology is often viewed as a distinct subfield, but experimental techniques and methods are used extensively throughout every branch. Some of the methods used include experiments, correlational studies, case studies, and naturalistic observation.

Experimental psychologistswork in a wide variety of settings, including colleges, universities, research centers, government, and private businesses. They utilize the scientific method to study a range of human behaviors and psychological phenomena.

Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology deals with issues related to psychology and the law. Those who work in this branch apply psychological principles to legal issues. This may involve studying criminal behavior and treatment or working directly in the court system.

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Forensic psychologists perform a wide variety of duties, including providing testimony in court cases, assessing children in suspected child abuse cases, preparing children to give testimony, and evaluating the mental competence of criminal suspects.

In many cases, people working in forensic psychology aren't necessarily "forensic psychologists." These individuals might be clinical psychologists,school psychologists, neurologists, or counselors who lend their psychological expertise to provide testimony, analysis, or recommendations in legal or criminal cases.

Health Psychology

Health psychology (also sometimes called medical psychology or behavioral medicine) focuses on how biology, psychology, behavior, and social factors influence health and illness. This branch of psychology involves the promotion of health across a wide variety of domains, as well as the prevention and treatment of disease and illness.

Health psychologists often deal with health-related issues such as weight management, smoking cessation, stress management, and nutrition. They might also research how people cope with illnesses, helping patients learn more effective coping strategies.

Some professionals in this type of psychology assist with the design of disease prevention and public awareness programs, while others work within the government to improve health care policies.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Industrial-organizational psychology applies psychological principles to workplace issues. This branch of psychology, often referred to as I/O psychology, seeks to improve productivity and efficiency in the workplace while maximizing the well-being of employees. It includes areas suchas human factors.

Human factors psychology focuses on human error, product design, ergonomics, human capability, and human-computer interaction. Its goal is to improve how people interact with products and machines. This might involve helping to design products intended to minimize injury or creating workplaces that promote greater accuracy and safety.

Research in I/O psychology is known asapplied researchbecause it seeks to solve real-world problems.These types of psychologists study topics such as worker attitudes, employee behaviors, organizational processes, and leadership.

Industrial-Organizational Psychologist Career Overview

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Personality Psychology

Personality psychology is the branch of psychology that focuses on the study of thought patterns, feelings, and behaviors that make each individual unique. Classic theories of personality include Freud'spsychoanalytic theoryof personality andErikson's theory of psychosocial development.

Personality psychologists might look at how different factors (such as genetics, parenting, and social experiences) influence personality development and change. They may also be involved in the creation or administration of personality tests.

School Psychology

School psychology is a type of psychology that involves working in schools to help kids deal with academic, emotional, and social issues. School psychologists also collaborate with teachers, students, and parents to help create a healthy learning environment.

Most school psychologists work in elementary and secondary schools, but others can be found in private clinics, hospitals, state agencies, and universities. Some go into private practice and serve as consultants—especially those with a doctoral degree in school psychology.

Social Psychology

Social psychology seeks to understand and explain social behavior. It looks at diverse topics including group behavior, social interactions and perceptions, leadership, nonverbal communication, and social influences on decision-making.

Social influences on behavior are a major interest in social psychology, but these types of psychologists are also focused on how people perceive and interact with others. This branch of psychology also includes topics such as conformity, aggression, and prejudice.

Sports Psychology

Sports psychology is the study of how psychology influences sports, athletic performance, exercise, and physical activity. Individuals may work with a sports psychologist to improve their focus, develop mental toughness, increase motivation, or reduce sports-related anxiety.

Some sports psychologists work with professional athletes such as pro sports players and top Olympians. Others utilize exercise and sports to enhance the health and well-being of non-athletes throughout their lifespan.

A Word From Verywell

Psychology is always evolving and new fieldsand branches continue to emerge. It is important to remember that no single branch of psychology is more important or better than any other. Each area contributes to our understanding of the many different psychological factors that influence who we are, how we behave, and how we think.

By conducting research and developing new applications for psychological knowledge, professionals working in all the types of psychology are able to help people better understand themselves, confront the problems they may face, and live better lives.


Which branch of psychology studies the relationship between the brain and behavior? ›

Biopsychology. Biopsychology is a branch of psychology focused on how the brain, neurons, and nervous system influence thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

What branch of psychology is how do our brains work? ›

Cognitive psychologists, sometimes called brain scientists, study how the human brain works — how we think, remember and learn. They apply psychological science to understand how we perceive events and make decisions.

How do psychologists study mind and behavior? ›

Psychologists accomplish these things by using objective scientific methods to understand, explain, and predict human behavior. Psychological studies are highly structured, beginning with a hypothesis that is then empirically tested.

What is the relationship between brain and behavior psychology? ›

The brain receives information and internal and external influences that enable the most appropriate behaviors to be triggered at any time. In addition, our behavior has environmental consequences, which can be experienced as positive or negative for us.

What are the different field of psychology and what kind of behavior each field is being specialized? ›

There are several different fields, or branches, of psychology including social psychology, abnormal and clinical psychology, educational psychology, forensic psychology, health and biological psychology, behavioral psychology, developmental psychology, and industrial/organizational psychology.

How do psychologists study the brain and how it works? ›

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measures blood flow in the brain during different activities, providing information about the activity of neurons and thus the functions of brain regions.

Why is it important for psychologists to know how the brain functions? ›

To effectively treat brain diseases and disorders, including dementia, schizophrenia, depression, motor neurone disease and many others, we need to understand how the healthy brain functions and what makes these processes go awry.

Why is it important to study the brain in psychology? ›

The brain is the most complex part in the human body. This three-pound organ is responsible for our intelligence, interpreting sensation, initiating body movement, and controlling all of our behaviors.

What is a behavioral study in psychology? ›

Behavioral scientists study when and why individuals engage in specific behaviors by experimentally examining the impact of factors such as conscious thoughts, motivation, social influences, contextual effects, and habits.

What are examples of behavioral psychology? ›

Modern Behavioral Psychology, or Behaviorism, continues to explore how our behavior can be shaped by reinforcement and punishments. For example, new eye tracking experiments can develop an understanding of how we learn through positive and negative feedback.

What is studied in behavioral psychology? ›

Behavioral psychology is a branch of the field that analyzes human behavior and treats mental issues based on the theory that all behaviors are the result of environmental stimuli and positive or negative reinforcement.

What type of psychology explains mind and behavior? ›

Cognitive psychology looks at the mental processes that relate to thinking, memory and language, and makes discoveries about these processes by observing behavior, according to the APA.

Who studies the mind and behavior? ›

If you've ever wondered, “Why do people do the things they do,” you've started delving into the field of Psychology. Psychological Science is the scientific study of the mind and behavior. Psychological researchers use rigorous research methods to carefully test and document factors that influence behavior.

Does cognitive psychology study behavior? ›

Behavioral and cognitive psychologists measure behavior and cognitions. They create case conceptualizations based on learning principles and ways in which emotions and cognitions are processed. They use evidence-based treatments that are adapted to individual persons.

How does psychology relate to behavior? ›

Behavioral psychology, or behaviorism, is a theory suggesting that environment shapes human behavior. In a most basic sense, behavioral psychology is the study and analysis of observable behavior. This field of psychology influenced thought heavily throughout the middle of the 20th century.

What is the relationship between psychology and the study of behavior? ›

Thus psychology studies both observable behaviour and mental processes. The mental process includes thoughts, memories, emotions, motives, dreams, perceptions, beliefs, etc. The study of mental processes present a specific problem because they cannot be directly observed, recorded and measured.

How do scientists study the brain's connections to behavior and mind? ›

Scientists use imaging devices to better understand the working brain. One device commonly used to explore the brain is called functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or fMRI. fMRI measures changes in the brain as they are happening.

How is psychology used in different fields? ›

Industrial and organizational psychologists use science to study human behavior in organizations and the workplace. Psychologists working in education study how people learn and retain knowledge. They apply psychological science to improve the learning process and promote educational success for all students.

What are three 3 major types of learning described by behavioral psychology? ›

The behavioural psychology described three types of learning: Classical Conditioning, Observational Learning and Operant Conditioning.

What branch of psychology is interested in the ways in which the behaviour of one affects others? ›

Social Psychology

Psychologists in this branch study the social factors that influence how people act and the condition in which those actions occur. Most social psychologists research and observe social influence, group processes, prejudice or discrimination, and stereotypes.

What is the study of the brain called in psychology? ›

Neuroscience, also known as Neural Science, is the study of how the nervous system develops, its structure, and what it does. Neuroscientists focus on the brain and its impact on behavior and cognitive functions.

What are the different methods and techniques that are used to study the brain? ›

Many brain imaging tools are available to cognitive neuroscientists, including positron emission tomography (PET), near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), magnetoencephalogram (MEG), electroencephalography (EEG), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

How do cognitive psychologists study the mind and mental processes? ›

Cognitive psychologists follow the example of the behaviorists in preferring objective, controlled, scientific methods for investigating behavior. They use the results of their investigations as the basis for making inferences about mental processes.

Why do psychologist study the brain and nervous system? ›

Because all behaviour is controlled by the central nervous system, biological psychologists seek to understand how the brain functions in order to understand behaviour.

How does the brain process information psychology? ›

Information from the senses passes through the sensory register to immediate memory and then on to working memory for conscious processing. If the learner attaches sense and meaning to the learning, it is likely to be stored. The self-concept often determines how much attention the learner will give to new information.

Why do psychologists study behavior and mental processes? ›

Psychologists observe and describe behavior and mental processes to better understand them.

What are two kinds of behavior psychologists study? ›

There are two main types of behaviorism: methodological behaviorism, which was heavily influenced by John B. Watson's work, and radical behaviorism, which was pioneered by psychologist B.F. Skinner.

What are the five behaviors psychology? ›

Many contemporary personality psychologists believe that there are five basic dimensions of personality, often referred to as the "Big 5" personality traits. These five primary personality traits are extraversion (also often spelled extroversion), agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.

How is behavioral psychology used today? ›

Behaviorist principles are sometimes used today to treat mental health challenges, such as phobias or PTSD; exposure therapy, for example, aims to weaken conditioned responses to certain feared stimuli. Applied behavior analysis (ABA), a therapy used to treat autism, is based on behaviorist principles.

What branch of social science that studies the mind and behavior? ›

Psychology. Psychology studies the human mind and behaviour to try to understand how people and groups experience the world through various emotions, ideas, cognitive processes, and conscious states.

Which field of psychology studies the relationship between psychological processes and behavior? ›

Biological psychology – also known as biopsychology or psychobiology – is the application of the principles of biology to the study of mental processes and behaviour.

Which of the branches of science deals with the study of behaviour? ›

Social sciences: the study of human behavior in its social and cultural aspects.

Which branch of science that deals with the behavior of matter? ›

Quantum mechanics is the branch of science that deals with the behaviour and character of matter and energy interaction with the atoms of matter.


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