Psychologists are playing critical roles in addressing how poverty and other environmental factors influence people’s health.
Psychology is the fourth most popular major in U.S. colleges and universities.
And a growing number of workplaces are turning to psychology to improve employees’ productivity, health and safety and, not coincidentally, improve their bottom lines.
These are some of the trends explored a special section, “10 Trends to Watch in Psychology,” published in the November issue of the Monitor on Psychology, the flagship magazine of the American Psychological Association.
“Psychology touches almost every aspect of people’s lives, yet many people are not aware of the breadth and depth of its application and influence,” said APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr. “We hope the articles in this special report will open people’s eyes to how the science and practice of psychology are revolutionizing the world around us.”
One article on the burgeoning field of applied psychology details how human factors psychology is bridging the gap between humans and machines, including human-robot interactions, brain-machine interfaces and virtual reality systems.
“Already, there are vehicles that incorporate partial-automation systems, such as cars that parallel park themselves or slow down if you get too close to the car in front of you,” the article says. Other psychology-informed systems might soon measure how a worker’s brain becomes fatigued during different types of work and adapt the amount of automation involved depending on the worker’s attention level and cognitive state.
Another article looks at how psychologists are delving into the roles played by genes and gene expression in mental illness, substance use and neurodevelopmental disorders. For example, in the area of addiction research, aspects of a people’s genetic expression that allow them to become addicted in the first place could be modified to lessen their tendency toward addictive behavior.
“The thing that intrigues me, and many other people with a psychology background, is that these [factors] can be modified,” not necessarily by changing the genetic code, but by changing how genes are turned off and on in neurons, says Jeremy Day, PsyD, who studies cocaine addiction in his lab at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.
In workplaces, psychologists are documenting the financial losses companies suffer when they fail to provide work environments that offer psychosocial safety, according to another article. “We’ve been trying to use this economic argument to show organizations that if they really are interested in productivity, they are going about it the wrong way, because if you don’t care for your workers, they will burn out,” says Maureen Dollard, PhD, a professor of work and organizational psychology at the University of South Australia’s Asia Pacific Centre for Work Health and Safety.
Among the other trends identified:
• Psychologists are playing a pivotal role in overall health care;
• Psychologists are intensifying their political advocacy for science;
• Technology is revolutionizing psychological practice;
• Psychology research is opening up, with more sharing of data and research methods;
• A lack of equity continues for women in psychology, even as women in other scientific fields have seen gains.