What are the two main reasons that psychologists do research?

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The study of psychology has proved beneficial not only to scientists working to learn more about our known universe, but also to people around the world who suffer from mental illnesses. Spanning back to 4 BC, psychology is a branch of science that focuses on the behavior of the mind,...

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The study of psychology has proved beneficial not only to scientists working to learn more about our known universe, but also to people around the world who suffer from mental illnesses. Spanning back to 4 BC, psychology is a branch of science that focuses on the behavior of the mind, including conscious and unconscious thought processes.

Some of the processes studied include perception, attention, intelligence, personality, and interpersonal relationships. All functions of the mind and the physiology of the brain are components of the study of psychology.

While many psychologists work in therapeutic roles, such as in counseling or mental health centers, many also choose to work more on the science side in order to do research and make discoveries.

Many ancient philosophers worked partially in the realm of psychology. Some of those people include Aristotle, Hippocrates, Plato, and Confucius. They made suggestions about the mind and mental disorders, and their philosophical assumptions took root and became the foundation for psychology as a science.

Psychological experiments did not become common until the mid 1800's. Popularly referenced names relating to psychology are Ivan Pavlov and Sigmund Freud. 

While one of the arguments in favor of the studying of psychology is research and discovery based, another strong argument is that psychology can help people with mental illnesses or disorders. The brain is an organ, and like any other part of your body, it can get sick. Psychology helps to figure out the root of mental problems, and how it can be possible to cure or alleviate the symptoms of mental disorders.

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Research is the essential element of all sciences and social sciences because it is how knowledge is advanced. We certainly do not know everything that can possibly be known about the human mind and brain, and therefore psychologists are constantly doing research to discover and understand more.

The first reason why one does research is simply to develop understanding. This is sometimes called "basic research" or "pure research". Its goal is not immediate applicability but developing a knowledge base and conceptual framework. This is research for its own sake. Someone might be curious about how color affects mood or about the differences in how our minds work as we age.

The second reason for doing research is to solve a specific problem. This is called applied research. It starts not with general curiosity but with an issue such as how to help veterans with PTSD or which forms of counseling are most effective for addicts. 

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Psychologists study a wide variety of phenomena. For instance, some specialize in understanding social behavior. Others study memory, or child development, or cognitive neuroscience. But regardless of the area of specialization, you can usually categorize a piece of research in one of two ways. It's either (1) research aimed at helping people, or (2) research aimed at furthering knowledge for its own sake.

For example, imagine a study designed to test the effectiveness of two different ways of teaching mathematics to young children. The researchers might call themselves "educational psychologists," but we can also say their work is designed to address a practical, real-world problem. They want to see which teaching method is better, and the results of their study can be put to immediate use. Another way to say this is that the research has clear, immediate applications. It's what scientists call "applied research."

By contrast, cognitive psychologists might perform experiments on toddlers to see if they can tell the difference between an array of 12 dots and an array of 16 dots. The researchers aren't trying to find a solution to a practical problem. They simply want to understand how the mind works. Can little kids tell if one set of objects is bigger than another, even if they haven't yet learned to count? Possibly, the results of the study will lead to practical applications. Someday, their research might yield insights that help teachers improve education practices. But for now, these psychologists are motivated by gaining knowledge for its own sake. It's what scientists call "pure" or "basic" research.

Of course, the distinction isn't always clear-cut.

Sometimes a psychologist sets out to do applied research, and discovers things along the way that contribute to basic research. An example might be a study where the researchers are testing the effects of a drug therapy and discover a strange, new side effect that makes psychologists question what they thought they knew about the mind.

Alternatively, somebody doing "pure" research on the determinants of self-control might find her work being used by therapists who counsel people with addiction.

 

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