Careers in Cognitive Psychology

Scientist looking at brain scans

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Cognitive psychologists study the internal mental processes that influence human behavior. This includes understanding how people form, store, and use memories, how people perceive information in the world around them, how information is processed, and how language develops.

If these sorts of things sound interesting to you, then you might be interested in a career in the field of cognitive psychology. In order to better understand the sort of things that professionals who work in this field do, let's begin by learning a bit more about cognitive psychology itself.

Overview

Cognitive psychology is concerned with how people acquire, process and store information. Major areas of interest in cognitive psychology include language, attention, memory, decision-making, and problem-solving.

Cognitive psychology has many practical applications. For example, cognitive principles are often used in the creation of educational materials and software design.

Work Environment

Cognitive psychologists work in a number of areas. Many cognitive psychologists conduct applied research or basic research on the human thought process. Cognitive psychologists often work at colleges and universities, government agencies, corporate businesses and in private consulting.

Common career titles include university instructor, human factors consultant, industrial-organizational manager, and usability specialist.

Jobs in Cognitive Psychology

Some cognitive psychologists may work in clinical areas while others choose to work in other settings such as education, business, government, and research. Some of the career opportunities that a cognitive psychologist might pursue include:

Healthcare

Some cognitive psychologists might work in healthcare and mental health treatment settings. Cognitive psychologists might work in hospitals and mental health clinics to help people who are dealing with cognitive issues. 

They might treat people who:

  • Have memory loss, dementia, or Alzheimer's disease
  • Have experienced a traumatic brain injury
  • Have a condition that may benefit from cognitive therapy
  • Have sensory or perceptual issues
  • Have a language or speech disorder

Research

Cognitive psychologists also work in research settings to learn more about mental processes. Many of those who conduct research also teach in university settings. They conduct studies and publish research that furthers our collective understanding of different subjects in the field of cognitive psychology.

Business

Other cognitive psychologists are employed by private businesses to conduct research, develop products, and create marketing strategies. Some psychologists may be employed directly by companies, while others may be hired on a consulting basis.

Salary

Wages and salaries for cognitive psychologists vary widely depending on degree, position, and experience. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average salary for those working as industrial-organizational psychologists in 2015 was $97,260, with the median annual salary for psychologists in general being $79,010.

Most cognitive psychologists are employed in teaching and research positions by colleges and universities. In a 2015 salary survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), the median salary for university faculty positions was $62,000.

The demand for cognitive psychologists also varies. There has been significant growth in other areas such as human-computer interaction, software development, and organizational psychology.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment for organizational psychologists specifically is projected to grow by 13% between 2018 and 2028.

Education Requirements

While there are some entry-level opportunities available to graduates with a bachelor's degree, most careers in cognitive psychology require a master's or doctorate degree. Those working in applied areas can often find employment with a master's degree. These applied areas include human factors and industrial-organizational psychology, which is expected to grow in the future.

Pros and Cons

As with any career, there are a number of potential benefits and possible downsides that you should carefully consider before choosing to pursue a job in cognitive psychology. Spend some time researching your options before you make a decision about whether it is the right job for your personality, goals, and needs.

Benefits

  • Cognitive psychologists are able to help find solutions to real-world problems
  • Opportunities for self-employment through consulting work
  • Diverse career paths (i.e. private sector, consulting, government, education)

Downsides

  • Most teaching and research positions require a doctorate degree in cognitive psychology
  • Research can be tedious and may lead to burnout

A Word From Verywell

If you are interested in the field of cognitive psychology, it is a good idea to start planning your educational and career plan early on. Think about the type of work you would like to do and where you would like to work. There is a great deal of diversity in the field of cognitive psychology, so you will want to carefully tailor your educational path so that you can achieve your career goals.

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Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Department of Labor. Psychologists. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Updated September 4, 2019.

  2. Lin L, Christidis P, Stamm K. 2015 Salaries in Psychology. Published May 2017.