Psychology (Experimental)

Susanna O

Most people find human beings interesting, and as social creatures, we’re often keen to figure out why others think and behave in certain ways, and why they make the decisions they do. This is exactly what drew me to psychology, especially after realising that it’s not all about listening to people’s problems as they lay on a sofa. I found the idea of studying everything from how people learn and retain information, to how they become addicted to drugs, such an exciting prospect… so here I am!

What I enjoy most about my course is reading research papers, putting their results into real-world context, thinking about the implications they have for people’s lives, and then discussing and coming up with novel ideas for further experiments. It’s academically challenging and creative at the same time!

One of my best memories of the course involved taking a break from the library and eating sushi at Itsu at 10pm with the other Psychologist at St Edmund's Hall, testing each other before our exams.

Susanna, Teddy Hall, student from 2013
Sophie Taylor

Interested in Biology, Linguistics, Physics, Chemistry, Sociology, and History? Experimental Psychology encompasses the best aspects of all of these subjects (and more), into an exploration of the body and brain. It really is an amazing subject, and one that you acquire such a diverse range of skills from.

I love how Psychology is constantly moving forward - it makes studying it all the more interesting and fun. The facilities here in the Oxford Psychology department are also incredible, with Oxford being one of the leading institutions in the world to study it at.

My best experience in Experimental Psychology so far was definitely being able to touch the human brain in my first labs. Although not far behind that would be the time I got hypnotised for someone else's study.

Sophie, St Hilda's, 3rd year

My favourite thing ever about the course is that we cover so many different areas that you are absolutely certain to find something you will love (though also something you will not like that much). The breadth of the course allows you to always learn something new and eventually you will start making great connections between various concepts.

The best moments in my course for me are when during lectures I think "oh, I wonder what would happen if this experiment was carried out?" and the next slide mentions exactly that - I feel like if I was born 100 years ago I would have been an amazing scientist!

Natalia, Queen's, student from 2013

Although the Experimental Psychology course at Oxford appealed to me, I was very hesitant to apply here. I was interested in how people worked and what caused different behaviours and really liked the scientific emphasis, but I was worried that I might be out of my depth. This turned out to be the complete opposite of my experience; my tutors cared about my opinion, even when I was wrong or my essays were bad. I only had one or two lectures a day and they started at 11am, so I had the time to do things outside of work. And, although I still do end up having to stay up late to finish some pieces of work, it’s mainly due to procrastination.

During your first year, you have to take part in different psychological studies as part of your course. Some of these can be quite boring, but for some you might be in an MRI machine, dreaming in a sleep laboratory, or eating different foods – and you might even make some money too!

Essi, Brasenose, student from 2012

In your first year you take three courses: Psychology, Statistics, and Neurophysiology. This broad base is important in ensuring everyone is prepared for the later years of the course, particularly because people start this course with such a wide range of prior subjects. In second year, you study eight modules including "Language and Cognition", "Developmental Psychology", "Social Psychology", "Perception", and "Behavioural Neuroscience". The final year is very flexible and there are a wide range of Advanced Options to choose from. You can either take three of these, or take two and replace one with a Library Dissertation on a topic of your choice. For most students, the most rewarding part of the course are the Research Projects. You get assigned a supervisor who will guide you in picking a research question, collecting data, analysing, and writing up your findings into a journal-style article.

What makes Oxford different?

As suggested by the course title, the Oxford course approaches Psychology from a more scientific angle than many other Psychology courses. We have lab-based practicals throughout the second and third year, and we are encouraged to become familiar with research methods, experimental design, and statistics. Even essay-based work is expected to be based on the reading of scientific research articles.

What helped inspire your love of the subject?

Cat Jones

"Opening Skinner’s Box" is a great introductory book that covers some of the most important (and interesting!) psychological experiments of the twentieth century.

The British Psychological Association has a blog and email newsletter that you can follow to stay up to date with the latest research.

Cat, Pembroke, student from 2012
Susanna O’Brien

"Thinking Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman is a great place to start, and there are loads of interesting psychology-related TED talks.

Susanna, Teddy Hall, student from 2013

Find out more

Course length: 3 years
Students per year: 55

Make sure you read the official prospectus entry for the course which contains entry requirements, full course structure, additional interesting resources and full details of the application process.

If you're going to apply, you'll want to check which Oxford colleges offer this course.

You might also find it helpful to hear from students studying Biomedical Sciences, Human Sciences or PPL (or even consider applying for those courses!).