Because psychology studies human behavior, there’s a lot of debate on whether it’s a social science or a STEM.
It is understandable that many consider psychology a social science because of its focus on the human mind and behavior. However, psychology uses scientific techniques to test hypotheses and analyze behavioral data.
Hence, it is more than just a social science. It is more STEM inclined as it is largely based on scientific theory, research, and statistical analysis.
This post explains more about what qualifies psychology as a STEM major and more.
What is considered a STEM major?
STEM is short for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. A STEM major is any discipline in a recognized STEM field.
While subjects like mathematics and engineering easily fit into STEM, a bone of contention has been whether the science in STEM includes the social sciences.
The National Science Foundation (NSF), which deals with all matters related to science and new scientific discoveries as it affects development, research, and innovation in the United States, classifies psychology, economics, and anthropology as STEM.
Not only that, there is much debate about whether health and medical fields such as nursing and dentistry should be considered STEM.
In ACT Inc.’s 2016 Condition of STEM report, many fields of health and medicine were classified as STEM, thereby making doctors, nurses, and dentists STEM professionals.
All STEM fields have strong math and science elements, and this certainly applies to psychology as well. Since psychology is also considered a part of the field of biology, it rightly qualifies as STEM.
STEM major list
STEM students generally take courses in mathematics, statistics, biology, chemistry, and physics.
Typically, stem majors include the following disciplines:
- Natural, physical, and life sciences (including medicine)
- Computer, electronics, and other technology-related disciplines
- All engineering types
- Mathematics, or any field that involves extensive applied mathematical principles
What does psychology include?
The American Psychology Association defines psychology as the study of the human mind and behavior. It is a scientific discipline that focuses on analyzing and understanding mental processes and their connection to the way humans behave.
Because of its focus on the human mind and its connection to behavior, psychology is considered a “core science” by academics. Other fields of science, technology, and engineering apply psychological principles and research in human-centered work.
Although psychology isn’t a hard science like mathematics and physics, it is a soft science. That’s because psychology’s primary focus, the human mind, is highly complex and difficult to observe. While you can physically define equations or compounds, mental states and processes don’t have physical entities.
Psychology is more about observing people to understand their behavior than the laboratory work that is common in other sciences. Experimental psychology is hard because there are so many hidden influences on human behavior.
This has contributed to the perception of psychology as a social science. So, it’s worth asking whether psychology is an appropriate STEM subject.
Why is psychology a STEM major?
People tend to think of a psychology practice as a counseling session, where a psychologist might help a client deal with a mental health issue.
Because the discipline uses more visual observation and self-reporting than laboratory work, they argued that it did not employ the scientific method. But this conclusion is inaccurate and the reasons are as follows:
1. Psychologists do science-based work
Although many fields of psychology have social aspects, such as social psychology and industrial psychology, most fields of psychology have science at their core.
For example, clinical psychology, neuropsychology, cognitive psychology, forensic psychology, and health psychology involve practical and theoretical scientific work.
Clinical psychologists typically diagnose and treat patients, while neuropsychologists or cognitive psychologists may conduct scientific research and publish their findings.
2. Psychologists use scientific tools and methods
As a fundamental science, psychology practitioners use scientific tools and methods such as electromyography, fMRI, robotics, and behavioral analysis to achieve theoretical and empirical advances.
Practical work in this field requires familiarity with core scientific, mathematical, and technical concepts. For example, you can use statistics, computer simulations, and predictive models to examine complex cognitive phenomena.
Psychologists also typically need to have a good understanding of biology, including genetics and evolution, which they use in their day-to-day work.
3. Psychology provides scientific insights
Thanks to psychological research, there’s a better understanding of the mental processes behind learning, memory, decision-making, and emotion.
These insights have helped spur major advances in other STEM fields, including mathematics, computer science, mechanical engineering, and aeronautics.
For example, psychological insights helped create the computer mouse and redesign the toothbrush. Psychological studies of traffic patterns and the way people drive led to the introduction of high-mounted stoplights in vehicles.
Psychological insights have greatly influenced many aspects of modern life such as airplane cockpit displays, television commercials and educational programs, and more.
4. Graduate psychology courses are technical
Psychology offers qualifications with varying levels of technical sophistication. Students pursuing an associate degree in psychology or other undergraduate qualifications may have limited scientific employment.
However, graduate psychology degrees are specialized and involve intensive scientific work. Advanced psychology qualifications such as MPsych, Ph.D., or PsyD provide the specialist training required for scientific careers in psychology.
Depending on your chosen field, postgraduate psychology will include instruction in diagnostic and intervention strategies, psychopathology, neuroscience, genetics, and statistical modeling.
Professionals wishing to tackle big problems can complete a Ph.D. in a theoretical field. Those interested in treating patients will earn a PsyD and apply for professional licensure before beginning clinical practice.
Why do some people think psychology is not a STEM field?
Despite clear evidence supporting psychology as a STEM subject, there is a tendency to view the profession as primarily a social science. One reason is the common misconception that psychology does not use scientific techniques.
Many believe that a solid foundation in the scientific method is essential for engineers and doctors, but not for psychology. There’s also a misconception that psychologists studied human behavior simply by talking to people and asking about their behavior.
But this is psychologically incorrect. Experts in the field conduct experiments and scientific research to determine the basis of behavior. Ivan Pavlov’s famous conditioning experiments are a popular example of psychological research.
Unlike the social sciences, which usually study abstract concepts or aspects of society, psychology’s main focus is the human mind.
It explores thought by analyzing behavior and mental processes. Being able to conduct scientific research is a strong argument for psychology to be considered a STEM major.
Lists of social science disciplines often include psychology, and for understandable reasons. Social science studies human behavior in relation to society and culture. Since psychology is the study of the mind and behavior, it would seem to qualify.
Social science is any branch of academic study or science that deals with the socio-cultural aspects of human behavior. It typically includes cultural (or social) anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, and economics.
There is no doubt that psychology plays an important role in the broad field of social sciences. But psychology is more fundamental.
When you use the scientific method to study the human mind, you are not only interested in humans as social beings. Our brains are involved in perception, response to stimuli, and processes that may be completely unrelated to social interaction.
The scientific method is the process of establishing facts objectively through examination and experimentation. The basic process involves making observations, forming hypotheses, making predictions, conducting experiments, and finally analyzing the results.
Does psychology involve math?
No, psychology doesn’t contain as much math as other STEM majors.
Which careers have roots in psychology?
Therapy and counseling, training and development, private healthcare education, mental health support, career counseling, human resources, etc.
Is psychology a difficult major?
According to students who study psychology, it is a hard major. You will need to do a lot of reading and there will be a lot of assignments and research work.
Ultimately, there is no doubt that psychology is a STEM subject because it is a core scientific discipline that uses scientific methods to aid human progress. Major academic and regulatory bodies also recognize psychology’s STEM status.
A task force from the American Psychological Association was pushed in 2009 to include psychology as a core STEM subject. The National Science Foundation also recognizes psychology as a STEM discipline and actively provides grants to researchers working in the field.
Additionally, regulatory agencies such as NASA and the Department of Homeland Security classify psychology as a STEM career.
Finally, you should find out what you can do with a psychology degree.
I hope this article helped. Thanks for reading.