Psychology (Experimental)
Phrenology head statue.
(Image credit: Shuttlestock).

Psychology (Experimental)

Psychology has been defined as the science of mental life and its scope includes a wide variety of issues. It addresses such questions as: How do we perceive colours? How do children acquire language? What predisposes two people to get on with each other? What causes schizophrenia?

 

Psychology at Oxford

Psychology at Oxford is essentially a scientific discipline, involving the rigorous formulation and testing of ideas. It works through experiments and systematic observation rather than introspection.

The Oxford Experimental Psychology Department is widely regarded as one of the leading psychology departments in the UK. The Department’s size and its commitment to research, as well as to excellence in teaching, means there are typically four or five research seminars each week, in addition to undergraduate lectures and classes. At present, there are particularly strong research groups in the fields of human cognitive processes, neuroscience, language, developmental, and social psychology.

Careers

Experimental Psychology students go on to follow careers in fields such as professional psychology, teaching and research, as well as finance and industry. Some careers will require additional study and/or training. This degree is accredited by the British Psychological Society for the Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership.

Since graduating in 1993, Adrian has worked as a market researcher in areas such as banking, government, whisky, and now as Market Research Manager for the Association of Train Operating Companies.  He says: ‘The statistical training from a psychology degree is invaluable, as is the curiosity about why people do and think the things they do. Psychologists and researchers share the drive and discipline to approach those questions in an organised manner that leads to robust conclusions.’

Charlotte, who graduated in 2003, now works for East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices as a Family Support Practitioner. She continues to use skills of assessment and analysis, developed during her undergraduate degree, to gain a full understanding of the presenting needs of the families she supports. She also uses her research skills to ensure families are offered the most effective evidence-based techniques to help them cope with their loss and grief.

Related courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider Biomedical Sciences, Human Sciences, or Psychology, Philosophy and Linguistics.

Work placements/international opportunities

A wide choice of research projects is available, including projects based in other departments and outside the University.

A typical weekly timetable

During terms 1 and 2 work is divided between lectures (about six a week) and tutorials (two to three a week).

During terms 3 to 9 your time will be divided between attending lectures (about six a week), tutorials (average of 1.5 a week), and practical classes (one afternoon a week). You will also carry out your own research project and be given the opportunity to write a library dissertation.

Terms 1 and 2

Courses

Three courses are taken out of:

  • Psychology
  • Philosophy
  • Linguistics
  • Neurophysiology
  • Statistics

Assessment

First University examinations

Three written papers

Terms 3–5

Courses

Nine courses are taken, including the eight core topics:
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioural Neuroscience
  • Perception
  • Memory, Attention and Information Processing
  • Language and cognition
  • Developmental psychology
  • Social psychology
  • Personality, individual differences and psychological disorders

One course in experimental design and statistics

Assessment

Final University examinations, Part I:
Four written papers
Practical portfolio
Terms 6–9

Courses

Three advanced option courses in psychology or two advanced option courses and a library dissertation. The courses change each year to reflect advances in psychology; 
Research project

Assessment

Final University examinations, Part II:
Research project report
Three written papers (or two written papers and a library dissertation)

It is highly recommended for candidates to have studied one or more Science or Mathematics subject to A-level, Advanced Higher, or Higher Level in the IB or another equivalent.

All candidates must also take the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) as part of their application. Please see how to apply for further details.

All candidates must follow the application procedure as shown in how to apply. The information below gives specific details for students applying for this course.

Written work

You do not need to submit any written work as part of an application for this course.

Written test

All candidates must take the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA), normally at their own school or college, on 5 November 2014. Separate registration for this test is required and the final deadline for entries is 15 October 2014. It is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure that they are registered for this test. See www.tsaoxford.org.uk for further details.

What are tutors looking for?

In addition to a very good track record of academic achievement, tutors are keen to see whether you appreciate the scope of scientific psychology, can evaluate evidence, are able to consider issues from different perspectives, have a capacity for logical and creative thinking, appreciate the importance of empirical evidence in supporting arguments, and could cope with the quantitative demands of the course.

Selection criteria

Candidates may wish to refer to the selection criteria for Psychology (Experimental).

Suggested reading

Please follow the pdf link below for the suggested reading list for Psychology (Experimental). This document also includes suggested reading for Psychology, Philosophy and Linguistics.

Psychology (Experimental) reading list

Katrina, 2nd Year

'Oxford was always at the back of my mind when applying to university and at first I think I was quite intimidated by the thought of it. However, once I got here, I realised that it’s really not the scary place people make it out to be, but an amazing academic as well as social environment to be a part of.

I chose the course here because it is strongly rooted in experimental methods and you’re given the chance to talk to the people who are at the top of their field and are involved in current research which is changing the face of psychology. I still find it amazing that you’ll learn about a fascinating experiment in lectures and then realise that the person giving your tutorials or lectures headed that research team!

I am also able to take part in a range of really interesting experiments which widen my knowledge of the field as a whole and of how research is carried out. Every so often, some of the departmental researchers are on the lookout for a research assistant which is an amazing experience if you’re interested in staying in psychology after the degree. I’m quite keen on doing this as I would love to work in clinical psychology or research, so being able to work alongside some of the leading people in the field is absolutely ideal preparation.'

Rachel, who graduated in 2006

She is now a client consultant at Nunwood. She says:

‘Since graduating I have worked for two large market research companies specialising in brands and advertising research. My degree helped me to develop my analytical skills and gave me project management experience, both of which have been invaluable in my chosen career path.’

Contextual information

The Key Information Sets provide a lot of numbers about the Oxford experience – but there is so much about what you get here that numbers can’t convey. It’s not just the quantity of the Oxford education that you need to consider, there is also the quality – let us tell you more.

Oxford’s tutorial system

Regular tutorials, which are the responsibility of the colleges, are the focal point of teaching and learning at Oxford. The tutorial system is one of the most distinctive features of an Oxford education: it ensures that students work closely with tutors throughout their undergraduate careers, and offers a learning experience which is second to none.

A typical tutorial is a one-hour meeting between a tutor and one, two, or three students to discuss reading and written work that the students have prepared in advance. It gives students the chance to interact directly with tutors, to engage with them in debate, to exchange ideas and argue, to ask questions, and of course to learn through the discussion of the prepared work. Many tutors are world-leaders in their fields of research, and Oxford undergraduates frequently learn of new discoveries before they are published.

Each student also receives teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. But the tutorial is the place where all the elements of the course come together and make sense. Meeting regularly with the same tutor – often weekly throughout the term – ensures a high level of individual attention and enables the process of learning and teaching to take place in the context of a student’s individual needs.

The tutorial system also offers the sustained commitment of one or more senior academics – as college tutors – to each student’s progress. It helps students to grow in confidence, to develop their skills in analysis and persuasive argument, and to flourish as independent learners and thinkers.

More information about tutorials

The benefits of the college system

  • Every Oxford student is a member of a college. The college system is at the heart of the Oxford experience, giving students the benefits of belonging to both a large and internationally renowned university and a much smaller, interdisciplinary, college community.
  • Each college brings together academics, undergraduate and postgraduate students, and college staff. The college gives its members the chance to be part of a close and friendly community made up of both leading academics and students from different subjects, year groups, cultures and countries. The relatively small size of each college means that it is easy to make friends and contribute to college life. There is a sense of belonging, which can be harder to achieve in a larger setting, and a supportive environment for study and all sorts of other activities.
  • Colleges organise tutorial teaching for their undergraduates, and one or more college tutors will oversee and guide each student’s progress throughout his or her career at Oxford. The college system fosters a sense of community between tutors and students, and among students themselves, allowing for close and supportive personal attention to each student’s academic development.

It is the norm that undergraduates live in college accommodation in their first year, and in many cases they will continue to be accommodated by their college for the majority or the entire duration of their course. Colleges invest heavily in providing an extensive range of services for their students, and as well as accommodation colleges provide food, library and IT resources, sports facilities and clubs, drama and music, social spaces and societies, access to travel or project grants, and extensive welfare support. For students the college often becomes the hub of their social, sporting and cultural life.

More about Oxford’s unique college system and how to choose a college