If you have an interest in understanding the brain and how it works, you might consider a career in one of the neurosciences. But looking at the field from the perspective of someone coming from a psychology background, you might also be wondering – what is the difference between neuropsychology and neuroscience?
What is Neuroscience?
Also known as neurobiology, neuroscience is a broad, interdisciplinary field that includes several other sub-fields, one of them being neuropsychology. Neuroscience looks at the physical structures of the brain and nervous system all the way down to the molecular and cellular make-up of brain matter. The field is focused on understanding both the development of the brain as well as the degenerative effects of aging and disease and how it all impacts brain function and capabilities, including everything from computation and memory to speech and behavior.
If you are interested in neuroscience, the study of the brain, you might choose to specialize in neuropsychology or another area such as:
- Molecular and cellular neuroscience
- Systems neuroscience
- Research and medicinal neuroscience
- Developmental neuroscience
- Affective neuroscience
- Behavioral neuroscience
- Cognitive neuroscience
- Computational neuroscience
A Definition of Neuropsychology
Neuroscientists who specialize in neuropsychology are an elite group, studying the brain and its relationship to specific psychological behaviors and traits. Neuropsychologists can work in research settings at universities or laboratories, or they might treat patients directly in a clinical setting. Many of them participate in both research and direct patient care. Modern neuropsychology dates only from the 1960s, but as a branch of neuroscience, the study of psychology as it relates to the physiology of the brain dates back as far as ancient Egypt.
Becoming a Neuropsychologist
Most neuropsychologists have doctorates in psychology. Since the field is research intensive, those planning on a career in neuropsychology will likely choose degree programs that emphasize research over other aspects of psychology. For those just beginning their schooling, an undergraduate degree in both psychology and biology can be helpful. The field of neuropsychology is highly specialized, which means that continuing education must continue even after degree completion. For most, this means postdoctoral work in the specific field of neuropsychology.
Degree programs in neuropsychology are extremely competitive. Participation in related research projects during undergrad and master’s education may help aspiring neuropsychologists to gain the attention and confidence of others in the field. Those interested in pursuing this career path should take the time to read current research from top-rated journals and become familiar with the work of leading researchers.
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Careers in Neuropsychology
Although a career in neuropsychology will certainly include a lot of research, neuropsychologists don’t spend all their time in the lab. Many neuropsychologists also teach in colleges and universities. All neuropsychologists are expected to write and publish their findings in journals. Some neuropsychologists also practice clinical psychology and treat patients regularly. Because of the many aspects of this particular field, neuropsychologists have the flexibility to choose occupations that they find interesting and fulfilling within the field.
Humans have been studying the brain and how it works for millennia, but there is still much to discover. If you have an interest in brain function, you might be interested in one of the specializations of neuroscience. Neuropsychology, one of many specializations, is more focused on cognition and behavior than other branches of neurobiology. Now that you know the difference between neuropsychology and neuroscience, you can make a decision concerning whether a specialization in neuropsychology is right for you.