What Are the Subfields of Psychology?

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Psychology is the field of science that focuses on the mind and behavior. While it’s a relatively new science, it has quickly become a very popular scientific field and many subfields of psychology have emerged.

The initial focus of psychology was on the causes and effects of the mental processes involved in behaviors. Now, psychologists understand that many factors contribute to and influence behaviors. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in the field of psychology, you will have the opportunity to explore all the subjects this field has to offer. Keep reading to learn about some of the subfields of psychology to explore.

Psychological Research and Ethics

Psychological research and ethics is a rewarding field for those more interested in the scientific progress of psychology. Psychology requires investigation into the causes of behavior based on research, observation and measurement, like all sciences. Psychological researchers must be able to support theories with data and analysis as well as understand the ethical issues surrounding research subjects and how they should be treated.

You can often find jobs working in academic research with a bachelor’s degree, so earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology is a good place to start in this field, as well as looking for entry-level research assistant jobs or similar positions. 

Child and Adolescent Psychology

As the name implies, child and adolescent psychology focuses on patients from infancy to adolescents. More specifically, this subfield is the psychological study, assessment and treatment of children and adolescents, often in a clinical setting. This includes topics such as:1 

  • Cognitive, emotional, developmental and behavioral issues
  • Trauma and loss 
  • Stress and coping 
  • Issues in a social context

While it may be difficult to watch children experience hardships during their childhoods, making sure that each child’s basic psychological needs are met can also be very rewarding.

Adult Development and Aging

This subfield of psychology focuses on the study of adult development, the many different aspects of adulthood and how they relate to psychology. One major topic in this subfield is how people change throughout their adult development and aging.

A similar subfield to adult development is geropsychology. Geropsychology is a specialty that focuses on helping older people and their families maintain their psychological and physical well-being to achieve their maximum potential during later life. This means that geropsychology deals with many different topics, including mental health, dealing with chronic illness, grief and loss, health promotion and end-of-life care.2 You can best learn about these topics in a graduate degree program, such as a master’s in geropsychology

Sport and Performance Psychology

Sport and performance psychology studies how behaviors and thoughts affect sports and athletic performance. A psychologist in this field will work with athletes, coaches and trainers to increase motivation and performance based on research and theories. These professionals often advise athletes on enhancing their performance in different environments and can even counsel athletes about the developmental and social issues related to sports participation.

Earning a bachelor’s in sports psychology is a great place to start if you intend to become a sports psychologist. This will teach you fundamental skills surrounding performance and mental health and will serve as the initial step for those who want to pursue a high-level career in this field. 

Cognitive Neuroscience

This subfield of psychology bridges biology and cognition, dealing with how the biological brain produces our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. These psychologists study brain development and change as well as how the brain is affected by injury and disease. Cognitive neuroscience also focuses on areas of the brain that control mental processes, such as thinking, and investigates how the brain controls these mental activities.

Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology is another subfield of psychology that acts as a bridge between two fields; in this case, the science of human behavior and law. This field can be extremely enticing to those interested in criminal psychology as well as the criminal justice system, but it is often glorified in pop culture.

Forensic psychologists do play a vital role in the criminal justice system. Some common functions performed by these professionals include:3

  • Giving sentencing recommendations and competency evaluations 
  • Providing testimony as an expert witness 
  • Performing child custody evaluations 
  • Consulting with law enforcement 
  • Providing psychological services to inmates and offenders

Earning a master’s in forensic psychology will help you to understand the fundamentals of this subfield and the role it plays in the criminal justice system while exploring topics related to criminal psychology and the legal system.

Abnormal Psychology

Professionals in abnormal psychology focus on atypical behavior in members of a society, including mental health disorders and treatments. These behaviors often change within different cultural groups and generations, as atypical behavior in one culture may be common in another. This means that while studies done by abnormal psychologists vary, they are connected by a theme of abnormality.

Abnormal psychology also encompasses the study of social norms and the standards of acceptable behavior within a society. Abnormal behaviors that happen outside of societal norms can help psychologists understand the causes behind the behaviors.

Health Psychology

The health psychology field revolves around not only people’s mental health but also their physical health and well-being. A health psychologist strives to ensure their patients are at their best physically, mentally and cognitively and living their healthiest lifestyle overall. They emphasize the relationship between the body and mind and how making changes in either affects the other.

Earning a master’s in health psychology can prepare you to work in a variety of settings, including: 

  • Community health 
  • Occupational health 
  • Public health 
  • Clinical health

As a health psychologist, you can choose to work with others on a larger scale or on a more personal scale, whichever you prefer. Either way, you will find rewarding work helping people make healthy physical and mental choices.

Industrial and Organizational Psychology

Industrial and organizational psychology, also known as I/O psychology, is the study of human behavior in organizations and the workplace.4 Many topics fit into this subfield, so it might be beneficial to earn a PhD of I/O psychology to ensure that you understand all the factors of this field. 

An I/O psychologist addresses many issues in the workplace, and they have expertise in the design, execution and interpretation of human psychology as it applies to organized work. They often coach employees and employees to ensure a high quality of life and work within an organization as well as identifying needs for training and development.

Grand Canyon University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences offers a wide variety of psychology degrees at all levels that will introduce you to the various subfields of psychology. To learn more about your options at GCU, click the Request Info button at the top of the page.


Retrieved from: 

1American Psychological Association, Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology in August 2020 

2American Psychological Association, Geropsychology in August 2020

3Very Well Mind, An Overview of Forensic Psychology in August 2020 

4American Psychological Association, Industrial and Organizational Psychology in August 2020

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.

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