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Physiological Psychology Graduate Programs

This article provides helpful background information about graduate degree programs related to physiological psychology for students interested in spearheading this relatively new branch of psychological science. Learn about the program levels, courses, program specializations, and careers.

Graduate Programs Related to Physiological Psychology

Physiological psychology connects physiology (the study of normal functioning organisms) with the study of psychology (the study of the mind). This niche area of research falls within the broader field of behavioral neuroscience and is sometimes known as biological psychology. Students can study physiological psychology at both the master's and PhD levels. While the coursework differs from program to program, common courses include:

Neuroscience

A deep understanding of neuroscience (the study of neurons, the brain and their function) is essential to psychology students who seek to uncover the link between the mind and body. Students in this type of course may learn about the electrical properties of membranes, ionic basis of resting, and action and synaptic potentials. Later on in their coursework, students might build on this foundation to better understand the link between neuroscience and complex human behavior.

Cognitive Behavior/Development

Physiological psychologists are known to test animals to better understand the biological basis for advanced cognitive functions, like memory, perception, problem solving, intelligence and academic skills. Before conducting this type of research, some programs prepare students with background knowledge by introducing them to the academic literature about cognitive behavior. Students might study past research and experiments related to cognitive development and the physical basis for cognitive function.

Statistical Methods

Many psychology graduate students conduct their own original research, so they must be equipped with the tools for conducting experiments and sorting quantitative data. To this end, students often take a series of research methods classes to grow their mathematical toolbox. Topics may include differential and inferential statistics, independent groups, repeated measures and factorial ANOVA, multiple comparisons, multiple regressions and ANCOVA.

Research Design

Another kind of methods course (often taken alongside statistics and quantitative analysis coursework) could be that in research design. Psychologists must understand how to set up experiments properly, taking into consideration bias and other potential issues that could lead to skewed results. Students may learn about the strengths and weaknesses of different methods of data collection.

Ethics in Psychology

Psychology graduate students are expected to adhere to their discipline's code of ethics. For physiological psychology students, developing professional ethics is particularly important, as this branch of psychology often involves the controversial practice of testing live animal subjects. In this sort of course, students may study the literature and ongoing debates about ethics in psychology. They could also learn best-practices to guard themselves from future legal mishaps. While this is sometimes listed as its own course, ethics may also be woven into research methods classes.

Comparing Graduate Programs Related to Physiological Psychology

Master of Arts in Behavioral Neuroscience

At the masters level, physiological psychology is generally housed under the broader term 'behavioral neuroscience.' Because physiological psychology is such a new field, there are not many master's degree programs dedicated to it. Students can choose from a variety of behavioral neuroscience MA programs and then focus on the physiological side of the discipline in their elective classes and independent research projects. To apply to graduate programs in physiological psychology, students usually need a bachelor's degree with at least 15 credits of psychology coursework, a GPA of 3.0 or higher, and GRE test scores. These programs generally take 2-4 years to complete and include both coursework and independent research.

Master of Arts in Biological Psychology

Biological psychology is another field that closely connects to physiological psychology. While there are very few universities that offer a full master's degree in biological psychology, some universities offer concentrations. Within this kind of specialization, students may study hormonal influence of animal behavior, developmental neuroscience, animal learning, animal thinking and communication, and research methods for exploring animal behavior. These programs generally last 2-4 years and prepare graduates for further PhD research or careers in biopsychology.

Psychological Science PhD

Earning a PhD, the terminal degree in the field of psychology, is a common path for students who want to spend their career in psychology research and education. PhD programs usually allow students to design their own course of study, so candidates in a general psychology PhD program can choose to develop their area of expertise in physiological psychology. Applicants should make sure that the universities they apply to have academic experts interested in physiological psychology. Students also need to find a university with the appropriate lab resources and equipment for performing physiological psychology research (which often includes animal testing).

Behavioral Neuroscience PhD

While some universities prefer to offer a general psychology PhD (and then have students develop their own area of specialization within the broader program), other universities offer PhD programs specific to behavioral neuroscience. Because behavioral neuroscience PhD programs are interdisciplinary, students may take courses from departments across the university, like medical services, neurology, psychiatry, and anatomy and neurobiology. Students commonly conduct their own research under the direction of academic experts. They may also have the opportunity to serve as assistant or apprentice researchers.

Degree Program Program Length Program Requirements Related Careers
MA Behavioral Neuroscience 2-4 yearsBachelor's degree
3.0 GPA
GRE test scores
Researcher
Lab Manager
MA Biological Psychology2-4 yearsBachelor's Degree
3.0 GPA
GRE test scores
Lab manager
Biopsychologist
PhD Psychological Science 5-8 yearsBachelor's or master's degree
Previous coursework or research experience
GRE test scores
Research lead
Professor of Psychology
PhD Behavioral Neuroscience 5-8 yearsBachelor's or master's degree
Previous coursework or research experience
GRE test scores
Research lead
Professor of Psychology

Physiological psychology is an emerging field, but there are programs that allow students to pursue it at both the master's and PhD levels. Students who wish to kick-start their research career can choose to get an MA in the related field of behavioral neuroscience and/or further specialize by completing a PhD in physiological psychology.