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Understanding Human Nature: Behavioral Science vs. Psychology Degrees

Human behavior has been studied throughout history, but like humans themselves, these studies continue to evolve with changes in technology and culture. Those who work in the broad fields of behavioral science and psychology influence our understanding of self. Professionals in psychology and human behavior have an impact on a wide range of fields. However, there are key differences between a behavioral science and a psychology degree, particularly the expertise and opportunities afforded to those who earn each degree.

Mental health professional at work

Behavioral Science Degree Overview

Behavioral science takes an interdisciplinary approach to studying human behavior. It uses cognitive science, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and even artificial intelligence (AI) to explore and analyze human actions, habits, and intentions. This field incorporates both neuroscience and social sciences. Social sciences look at the impact of communication, language, culture, and the environment on human behavior.

What Do Behavioral Science Degree Graduates Do?

A behavioral science degree holder gains skills to help individuals understand their behavior, the behavior of their peers, or in the context of business, the behavior of consumers. They can apply these skills in human resources or social and community management. Some graduates work in business, applying consumer behavior insights to product development or marketing strategy.

Types of careers:

  • Corporate Coach: Also known as executive coaches, these professionals work with executives or other leaders to help them identify goals, improve self-awareness, and develop professionally. They do not typically give advice the way a therapist or consultant does, but rather they ask clarifying questions to help leaders identify solutions on their own.
  • Behavioral Scientist: These professionals work in fields such as law enforcement and social services and have varied responsibilities that can include investigating public health issues or developing educational programs. For example, a behavioral scientist might develop a method to reduce the likelihood of repeated crimes, drug abuse, or another specific issue within a community by analyzing data and identifying patterns that address the underlying cause.
  • Behavioral Science Researcher: These professionals conduct behavioral research studies at universities, healthcare facilities, and private companies. They interpret and analyze the outcomes of statistical tests; make informed choices on how to measure, screen, and prepare data; and prepare journal articles or oral presentations to share and distribute findings.

Psychology Degree Overview

Psychology is the study of the human mind and human behavior. A key difference between psychology and behavioral science is specificity. The coursework in a psychology degree program emphasizes human brain biology, cognition, and mental processes. The program covers a broad range of areas of study in psychology, including human development, abnormal psychology, multicultural psychology, social psychology, and biological psychology.

What Do Psychology Degree Graduates Do?

Those who earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology build a strong understanding of the human mind that can lead to many different careers. Graduates can apply their knowledge of psychology as human resource specialists or market research analysts, for example. Further study at the graduate level can lead to work as a mental health counselor, forensic psychologist, grief counselor, or development psychologist.

Types of careers:

  • Human Resources (HR) Specialist: HR professionals coordinate the hiring and internal communication activities of personnel within a company or organization. These specialists help employees navigate employers’ policies and facilitate communication between colleagues to resolve any disputes or other problems. They use their insights on human behavior to make determinations on new hires and navigate sensitive workplace conversations.
  • Mental Health Counselor: These psychology professionals use their understanding of the human mind to help people care for their mental health, especially when faced with challenges such as grief, marital problems, and anxiety. After completing a psychology bachelor’s degree program, these professionals must earn a master’s degree, licensure, and certification.
  • Market Research Analyst: Market research analysts collect and process data about a target audience for a company and use that information to sell products. Using their insight into consumer behavior, these analysts can help guide marketing strategies that can lead to desired outcomes for a brand or company in the marketplace.

Similarities Between Behavioral Science and Psychology

When comparing behavioral science and psychology degrees, it is clear that there are many underlying similarities between the two. Psychology is generally considered a subdiscipline of behavioral science, and as such there are overlaps in coursework and career paths. Both degrees emphasize research strategies, analyze human behavior, and require courses that apply critical thinking to social science.

Differences Between Behavioral Science and Psychology

The differences between behavioral science and psychology degrees include the focus and coursework of the degrees themselves, as well as potential career paths. While these two disciplines are closely related, understanding the nuances between them can help students match their degree choice with their interests and professional goals.

Coursework

A bachelor’s degree in behavioral science typically explores human actions and decision-making and helps individuals understand relationships within families and society at large. The study of psychology emphasizes the brain biology, cognition, and mental processes of individual humans. Behavioral science courses don’t always focus specifically on humans, nor do they focus on the brain as the most important variable. Rather, behavioral science study incorporates a broader range of subject areas.

Career Paths

Psychology majors can pursue work as a psychologist, mental health counselor, or survey researcher or in other specialties, such as forensic psychology, grief counseling, or developmental psychology. It’s important to note that many of these specialties require study at the graduate level as well as potential licensing and certification requirements. However, there are career paths, such as that of an HR specialist, caseworker, or veterans counselor that do not require an advanced degree.

According to the BLS, a number of career paths are open to behavioral science graduates including those as a health service manager, human resource specialist, social services manager. All three of these careers require a bachelor’s degree. Additional opportunities may become available with further education or certifications.

Behavioral Science vs. Psychology Degree: Which Is Right for You?

Although there are key differences between these fields of study, each requires a passion for understanding and interpreting human behavior and actions. Behavioral science offers a program for individuals interested in studying the broader influences on human behavior. Those looking to study human behavior at the individual level through cognition, mental processes, and brain biology may find that a psychology curriculum is a better match for their interests.

Learn More

Earning your online bachelor’s degree in psychology from Maryville University prepares you for a wide range of jobs in areas such as business, research, and social services. You can develop a diverse set of skills that apply to a variety of settings, including schools, businesses, governments, and healthcare. Find out more about where a degree in psychology can take you, and how Maryville University can help you get there.

Sources:

American Psychological Association, “What Can You Do With a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology?”

Maryville University, Online Psychology Bachelor’s Degree

Maryville University, Psychology Careers

Medium, “Behavioral Science and AI: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”

Simply Psychology, “What Is Psychology?” 

Study.com, “Career Information for a Degree in Behavioral Sciences”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Psychologists