Experimental Psychology: Definition and Meaning

Experimental psychology is a branch of psychology that use an observation-based experimental technique to study psychological processes. It ensures the application of science and entails the observation, control, and recording of the factors that influence a subject of research. Experimental psychologists are interested in examining how factors that can be controlled as well as those that can be influenced by artificial surroundings might affect and influence behavior.

Fechner, Gustav Theodor was one of the forerunners in 1860 when it came to the utilization of experiments to support the link between physical and sensory magnitudes. However, Wilhelm Wundt, who is credited as being one of the current pioneers, established the first laboratory for experimental psychology in 1879.

What is Experimental Psychology?

Experimental psychology uses empirical research techniques in a controlled environment to investigate and comprehend behavior. In domains including educational psychology, clinical psychology, forensic psychology, social psychology, sports psychology, etc., findings from this work can be used in practical applications (applied psychology). The study of human behavior, how it develops through time, and other theoretical issues enable experimental psychology to shed light on people's personalities and life experiences. According to the American Psychological Association, the area examines a broad variety of behavioral issues, including sensation, perception, attention, memory, cognition, and emotion.

The main objective of experimental psychology is study any topic or issues through empirical research. Experimental psychology focuses on particular issue and, one study at a time provides information that adds to overall results or a conclusion. It is being done usually through a scientific procedure wherein in a controlled environment, desirable variables are observed and studied. This is very lengthy process, as it takes years of time. Under such experimental study, researchers need to give their entire careers to studying a complicated research subject.

Historical Background

Psychology starts to specialize and become interested in the study of observable phenomena with its inception in the nineteenth century, giving rise to an empirical science, or one that is founded on the observation and experience of occurrences. Later, experimental psychology would carry out the measures in its research using precise techniques and tools. With Wundt's creation of the first experimental laboratory in 1879 and the introduction of a mathematical and experimental method to study, experimental psychology becomes a contemporary field in Germany. In his book Elements of psychophysics from earlier in 1860, German psychologist Gustav Theodor Fechner tried to verify and justify the relationship between physical and sensory magnitudes using experimental data.

Charles Bell, a British physiologist who studied nerves, Ernst Heinrich Weber, a German physician who is regarded as one of its pioneers, and Oswald Külpe, the major creator of the Würzburg School in Germany, among others, were additional writers who made contributions to this developing field. This trend for experimenting at the time, which sought to gauge the degree of connection between the biological and psychological, is what led to the emergence of several schools. One of these schools is the Russian one that Pavlov Y Bechterev started since he was interested in neurophysiology. Functionalism aims to show how biological rules distinguish Watson's behaviorism from other forms of behavior.

Behaviorism was the main school of psychology in the twentieth century, particularly in the United States. It is the area of psychology that, in experimental psychology, excludes mental phenomena. This was not the situation in Europe, where psychology was impacted by writers like Craik, Hick, and Broadbent who concentrated on topics like attention, cognition, and memory, creating the groundwork for cognitive psychology. Psychologists employed a variety of techniques in the second half of the 20th century, not just one narrowly experimental one. Additionally, many different areas of psychology, including social psychology and developmental psychology, employ the experimental method.

Methods in Experimental Psychology

Experimental psychologists explore human behavior using a range of various research techniques and equipment. Experiments, case studies, correlational research, and naturalistic observations are some of the techniques used in experimental psychology.

  • Experiment Method − The primary standard for psychological research is still experimentation. Psychologists and experts of this field may occasionally conduct experiments to determine if a cause-and-effect relationship exists between certain factors.

  • Case Studies − Case studies facilitate researchers the opportunity to thoroughly examine a person or group of people. When doing a case study, the researcher gathers every piece of information imaginable and frequently observes the individual or group across time and in various contexts. Additionally, they compile thorough background data on their subjects, including information on their family history, schooling, employment history, and social life.

  • Correlational Research − The experimental psychology technique of correlational investigations enables researchers to examine connections between various variables. 3 A psychologist could observe, for instance, that as one variable rise, another tends to fall. Such studies are able to examine associations, but they cannot be utilized to infer causal connections. Correlation does not always imply causation, according to the golden rule.

  • Naturalistic observations − Researchers can observe individuals in their natural settings by engaging in naturalistic observation. This experimental psychology approach can be especially helpful when the researchers suspect that the lab environment may have an unfavourable impact on participant actions.

Characteristics of Experimental Psychology

Major characteristics of experimental psychology are  −

  • To ensure that variations in the outcomes are not the consequence of initial differences between groups of participants, the individuals are randomly assigned to equivalent groups, leading to statistical equivalency.

  • The existence of two or more groups or circumstances to enable comparisons to be made between them. It is not possible to conduct experiments with only one group or condition to compare.

  • Management of an independent variable, represented by various conditions or values. This direct manipulation is carried out so that the changes it causes in the dependent variables may be seen. Assigning values and conditions must also be done by the researcher since else it wouldn't be regarded as a true experiment.

  • Management of an independent variable, represented by various conditions or values. This direct manipulation is carried out so that the changes it causes in the dependent variables may be seen. Assigning values and conditions must also be done by the researcher since else it wouldn't be regarded as a true experiment.

  • Each dependent variable should be measured by giving it a numerical value so that the outcome can be assessed and an experimental investigation can be said to have taken place.

  • Have a design that allows you to more effectively manage the impact of outside factors and prevents the outcomes from being impacted by them.


Though it cannot be confirmed or proven to be 100 percent true, but a psychologist can definitely overall understand human behaviours and predict major future characteristics of a person through his experimental research. Researchers can also assess the factors that influence an individual’s behavior by using the experimental approach in psychology. Likewise, a wide range of issues (especially psychological ones) may be studied by experimental psychologists and subsequently can be addressed successfully.

Updated on: 27-Apr-2023

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