CSUF Department of Psychology
Unit Banner


There are a number of ways of classifying psychological research such as experimental vs non experimental research, laboratory vs field research, quantitative (numerical) vs qualitative (descriptive) research, or basic vs applied research.

The difference between basic and applied research seems pretty obvious; applied research has some sort of application in the "real world." People often ask 'basic' researchers questions such as "What good is this? How does it improve the world? What practical problem does your research address?" Sometimes, basic researchers have to respond by saying their research is simply about knowing more and might have no direct or obvious application; it's basically knowledge for the sake of knowledge. It's important to understand that achieving a good understanding of behavior involves both basic and applied research.

Basic Research

Basic research is used to explore the fundamental bases of behavior, without regard to how those bases are manifested in the real world. Basic research aims to explain, predict, and describe fundamental bases of behavior. For example, a popular memory procedure is to have people respond to words on a computer screen as fast as possible (e.g., saying the word, pressing a key). This can tell researchers about how information in your memory is linked to other information. Does this ever happen in real life? Outside of a really weird video game, probably not. Is it important? Yes, it can tell us a great deal about the processes of memory. This procedure is just one example but in fact, much of psychological research is basic research.

Applied Research

Unlike basic research, applied research aims aims to address and answer real-world problems. Importantly, applied research is, like basic research, based on previous theory. Examples of applied research topics include persuasion, eyewitness memory, clinical treatments of psychological disorders, behavioral interventions for children with autism (see Applied Behavior Analysis, including our department's ABA degree program), decision making, etc.