What Can You Do With a PhD in Performance Psychology?

Female psychologist speaks with a young couple

Performance psychology is the study of human behavior during professional performance — especially physical performance — and how to improve it. Businesses and organizations use this branch of psychology to improve employee performance, increase work output and improve leadership skills. GCU offers a qualitative program as well as a quantitative program that you can use to pursue jobs in performance psychology.

GCU’s qualitative research program teaches how to research cognition, motivation and emotion and how it applies to professional performance. As a student, you will learn how to use research studies to grow your knowledge about why people think and act the way they do. You may also study the following:

  • How to apply psychological principles (including cognition, emotion, behavior and physical skill) within performance settings
  • How to change behavior and promote better leadership
  • Factors that may affect a person's actions
  • How mass communication may affect social awareness
  • Creating, analyzing and interpreting psychological tests
  • Improving learning and performance conditions, and measuring their outcomes
  • How the brain processes information, makes decisions and regulates emotions
  • What may impact brain function

GCU’s quantitative research program teaches you how to create a sampling plan and collect numerical data. You will also learn:

  • Major schools of thought within psychology and their origins
  • Strategies to help people manage interpersonal conflicts
  • The origins and background of the behaviorism movement
  • Applying theories of emotion, cognition and motivation to professional performance
  • Basic components of a quantitative research design

Graduates of GCU’s performance psychology programs can pursue a wide range of careers in sports, industry, education, leadership, psychology and research.

Industrial-Organizational Specialist

You may be qualified to pursue a career as an industrial-organizational specialist with a PhD in performance psychology. Industrial-organizational specialists apply psychological principles to human resources, marketing, sales, management and leadership issues. They may also:

  • Plan policy
  • Select, train and test workers using learning principles and differences among individuals
  • Analyze and develop organizations
  • Help management organize work settings to improve their workers’ productivity and job satisfaction
  • Conduct and publish research studies on workplace programs, environments and group or communication systems
  • Give expert testimony in court for employment lawsuits
  • Contact potential clients, give presentations and write proposals
  • Counsel workers about issues related to their job or career
  • Advise leadership on selecting new workers or changing aspects of the job environment

Industrial-organizational specialists are good listeners who ask questions at appropriate times and don’t interrupt. They have good reading comprehension and problem-solving skills. They are well-spoken with good judgement, writing and decision-making skills.

They have knowledge in psychology, the English language, human resources, personnel selection and training, management, administration and education.1

Social Scientist Research Assistant

You can also pursue a career in social science with a doctorate in performance psychology. Social scientist research assistants help social scientists conduct laboratory or survey research. They prepare research findings for publication and may help the scientist manage their data, analyze findings in the laboratory or may help with quality control. They may also:

  • Design programs for data entry and cleaning
  • Analyze statistics
  • Help the scientist prepare publication materials and presentations
  • Enter and analyze data into various programs and verify its accuracy
  • Conduct research
  • Recruit, schedule and obtain consent from research participants
  • Manage laboratory space and resources
  • Present research findings

Social science research assistants are good writers, readers, speakers and critical thinkers. They are good problem-solvers with good judgement, decision-making, listening and learning skills. They are knowledgeable in math, computer systems, the English language, science, customer service and administrative work.3

Postsecondary Psychology Teacher

Postsecondary psychology teachers, also known as psychology professors, teach classes in clinical psychology, child psychology, developmental psychology and psychological counseling. They may also:

  • Teach classes on abnormal psychology, cognitive processes or workplace motivation
  • Start and oversee classroom discussions
  • Grade classwork, laboratory work or homework

Psychology professors are good at teaching, reading, writing, problem-solving and analyzing different situations. They are persistent, dependable, independent, take initiative and have integrity. They have knowledge in psychology, sociology, anthropology, education, counseling and the English language.4

You can work toward these careers with a doctoral degree in psychology at Grand Canyon University. GCU is pleased to offer both quantitative and qualitative Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in General Psychology with an Emphasis in Performance Psychology degree programs. These programs will provide learners with a wealth of information on research design and cognition and emotion in performance settings. Click the “Request Info” link above to get more information about the doctoral programs GCU offers.


Retrieved from:

1 O*NET OnLine, Industrial-Organizational Psychologists: 19-3032.00 in June 2022.

2 O*NET OnLine, Clinical and Counseling Psychologists: 19-3033.00 in June 2022.

3 O*NET OnLine, Social Scientist Research Assistants: 19-4061.00 in June 2022.

4 O*NET Sites, My Next Move, Psychology teachers, postsecondary in June 2022. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.