Psychology: The Forgotten STEM Field

The public commonly associates science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) with a wide variety of disciplines, from aerospace engineers designing cutting-edge rockets to molecular biologists unraveling the mechanisms of diseases. However, one field often escapes mention in STEM discussions, despite its unquestionable status as a science: psychology. While some dismiss psychology as a “social science” more akin to the humanities than STEM, the discipline has developed rigorous standards for experimental study like the so-called “hard sciences” such as biology and chemistry. For students or those seeking a new career path, the intersection between psychology and STEM provides a wide range of opportunities in a broad scientific field. Although many still do not recognize the significance of psychology within STEM, as it continues to evolve and contribute to our collective understanding of the human mind, students and organizations should consider the benefits of investing in this field.

The Science of the Mind

Some remain skeptical that psychology is a true science, despite the National Science Foundation’s recognition of the field as a significant component of Behavioral and Cognitive sciences.1 For those who remain skeptical, consider this: what is science? Sciences are the study of phenomena through a systematic methodology, the scientific method. This method involves a hypothesis, experimentation, and analysis. Far from a purely observational field, psychology has produced many well-documented, reproducible experimental results using the scientific method.2

While dealing with more abstract concepts than fields like chemistry and mathematics, psychology is far from subjective. According to the American Psychological Association, psychology relies on advanced methodologies like fMRI, electromyographs, animal modeling, and behavioral analysis for empirical and theoretical study.3 Psychological studies have revealed critical information on the brain’s fear system, decision-making processes, learning, and memory. Significantly overlapping with neuroscience, research in psychology has shown how experience can change the expression of genes in brain cells.3 Essentially, despite its focus on the complex subject of the human mind, modern psychology upholds strong empirical standards and has produced many significant scientific breakthroughs.

Psychology and Other STEM Fields

As a science with a solid experimental basis, psychology significantly overlaps with other fields in STEM, particularly mathematics and other sciences like biology. Mathematics underlines much psychological research. A study demonstrated that individuals weigh costs and rewards “according to a mathematical function that is based on the value of the reward and the length of the delay.”3 Likewise, psychology has provided countless insights in economics through behavioral economics and improved education in science and mathematics by determining the cognitive mechanisms behind learning.

Psychology relies heavily on statistical analysis, computer modeling, and predictive mathematical models like other experimental fields. Alongside statistics, psychology has played a prominent role in applied mathematics, such as through the introduction of Structural Equation Modeling.3

Psychology also interacts with other STEM fields by helping to translate their advances into human use. In one case, airplanes that once needed three pilots now safely fly with two, an innovation derived from pilot training based on psychological understandings.3 Some subfields of psychology directly focus on its intersection with another STEM field, such as engineering psychology. Despite its common distinction from the “hard sciences,” psychology has played an essential role in applying all STEM fields.

STEM Careers in Psychology

Because of its significant interactions with other STEM fields, psychology provides a wide range of career options. For example, clinical psychologists work to treat issues, such as various mental and personality disorders. They may prescribe medication, and their focus on treating mental health issues demonstrates this field’s overlap with medicine. For those interested in mathematics, quantitative psychology combines advanced statistical modeling with the study of the mind to develop new ways to quantify behavior. This position is highly sought-after due to its emphasis on advanced data analysis and statistics.4 They may prescribe medication, demonstrating the field’s overlap with medicine and neuroscience. Brain science and cognitive psychology also fall under the broader psychology umbrella, focusing on memory, learning, perception, and decision-making.

The False STEM-Psychology Dichotomy

Despite its status as a science, psychology is often left out of the STEM discussion. Nevertheless, the field is highly similar to other STEM disciplines, relying on the same principles of experimentation, data collection, and analysis as sciences like chemistry and biology. Moreover, psychology often plays a vital role in other STEM fields by improving how people interact with innovative technologies and engineered structures.  Organizations in STEM looking to stay ahead of the competition should consider investing in psychology professionals who can help elevate a plethora of STEM applications.

Having the right talent is key for businesses in STEM looking to maintain a competitive edge. AllSTEM has the experience to help you find skilled science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) candidates to support your organizational goals. To find out more, visit AllSTEM at https://www.allstemconnections.com.

  1. https://www.nsf.gov/div/index.jsp?div=BCS
  2. https://neurotray.com/is-psychology-a-stem-field/
  3. https://www.apa.org/pubs/reports/stem-discipline
  4. https://www.apa.org/education-career/guide/subfields/quantitative