How Applied Research Is Used in Psychology

Applied research in psychology

Verywell / JR Bee

Applied research refers to scientific study and research that seeks to solve practical problems. This type of research plays an important role in solving everyday problems that often have an impact on life, work, health, and overall well-being.

This type of research can be used in a variety of ways. For example, it is used to find solutions to everyday problems, cure illness, and develop innovative technologies.

There are many different types of psychologists who perform applied research. Psychologists working in human factors or industrial/organizational fields, for example, often do this type of research.


A few examples of applied research in psychology include:

  • Analyzing what type of prompts will inspire people to volunteer their time to charities
  • Investigating if background music in a work environment can contribute to greater productivity
  • Investigating which treatment approach is the most effective for reducing anxiety
  • Researching which strategies work best to motivate workers
  • Studying different keyboard designs to determine which is the most efficient and ergonomic

As you may notice, all of these examples explore topics that will address real-world issues. This immediate and practical application of the findings is what distinguishes applied research from basic research, which instead focuses on theoretical concerns.

Basic vs. Applied Research

Basic research tends to focus more on "big picture" topics, such as increasing the scientific knowledge base around a particular topic. Applied research tends to drill down more toward solving specific problems that affect people in the here and now.

For example:

  • A social psychologist performing basic research on violence might look at how different factors might contribute to violence in general.
  • A psychologist conducting applied research might tackle the question of what type of programs can be implemented to reduce violence in school settings.

However, researchers also suggest that basic research and applied research are actually closely intertwined. The information learned from basic research often builds the basis on which applied research is formed.

Basic research often informs applied research, and applied research often helps basic researchers refine their own theories.

How It Works

Applied research usually starts by identifying a problem that exists in the real world. Applied psychologists then conduct research in order to identify a solution.

The type of research that is used can depend upon a variety of factors. This includes unique characteristics of the situation and the kind of problem psychologists are trying to solve.

Researchers might opt to use naturalistic observation to see the problem as it occurs in a real-world setting. They might then conduct experiments to help determine why the problem occurs and to explore different solutions that might solve it.

Potential Challenges

As with any other type of research, challenges can arise when conducting applied research in psychology. Some potential problems that researchers might face when performing this type of research include:

Ethical Challenges

When conducting applied research in a naturalistic setting, researchers have to deal with ethical challenges that can make research more difficult. For example, they may come across concerns about privacy and informed consent.

In some cases, such as in workplace studies conducted by industrial-organizational psychologists, participants may feel pressured or even coerced into participating as a condition of their employment. Such factors can also sometimes impact the result of research studies.

Problems With Validity

Since applied research often takes place in the field, it can be difficult for researchers to maintain complete control over all of the variables. Extraneous variables can also exert a subtle influence that the experimenters may not even consider or realize are having an effect on the results.

In many cases, researchers are forced to strike a balance between a study's ecological validity (which is usually quite high in applied research) and the study's internal validity.

Since applied research focuses on taking the results of scientific research and utilizing it directly in real-world situations, those who work in this line of research tend to be more concerned with the external validity of their work.

External validity refers to the extent that scientific findings can be generalized to other populations.

Researchers don't just want to know if the results of their experiments apply to the participants in their studies. They want these results to also apply to larger populations outside of the lab.

External validity is often of particular importance in applied research. Researchers want to know that their findings can be applied to real people in real settings.

How It's Used in the Real-World

What are some examples of how applied research is used to solve real-world problems?

  • A hospital might conduct applied research on how to prepare patients for certain types of surgical procedures.
  • A business might hire an applied psychologist to assess how to design a workplace console to maximize efficiency and productivity while minimizing worker fatigue and error.
  • An organization might hire an applied researcher to determine how to select employees that are best suited for certain positions within the company.

A Word From Verywell

Applied research is an important tool in the process of understanding the human mind and behavior. Thanks to this kind of research, psychologists are able to investigate problems that affect people's daily lives.

This kind of research specifically targets real-world issues. However, it also contributes to our base of knowledge about how people think and behave.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. CDC. Evaluation briefs.

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By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management.