What Does It Mean to Study Behavioral Science?
Behavioral science majors explore and analyze how human actions affect relationships and decision making. While a behavioral science degree program typically inspires students to apply their skills in social work and counseling careers, some graduates have found a place for their skills in the business world, helping companies find ways to outperform their competitors by studying the behavior of consumers.
In a very general sense, behavioral science incorporates disciplines from two broad fields: neural-decision sciences and social-communication sciences. While neural-decision sciences analyze how our decisions and anatomy interact, social-communication sciences investigate the impact of language and communication on our society, our relationships and ourselves.
Types of Behavioral Science Degrees
The creation of online degree programs has greatly broadened accessibility for learning about behavioral science. New high school graduates can attend college on the other side of the country without worrying about finding and affording housing there. Busy professionals can pursue degrees in the field without sacrificing their current income. Based on the experience each prospective student brings to the table, as well as where each student intends to take their degree after graduating, a different degree level may be suitable.
The various levels of degree programs you can pursue in this field include:
Associate Degree in Behavioral Science
Because behavioral science degree programs require a wide range of humanities courses, some students in this field begin their educational careers by pursuing an associate degree. These 2-year programs can introduce students to many of the basic concepts of behavioral science, while also touching on a variety of core education requirements. Conveniently, this curriculum combination is often a good foundation for later entry into a bachelor's and/or a master's degree program.
While associate programs in behavioral science mostly offer introductory courses in subjects such as psychology, anthropology, and human behavior, other subjects related to human behavior and behavior theory may be included as well. Speaking generally, courses you might expect to take include:
- Diversity theory
- Social psychology
Bachelor's Degree in Behavioral Science
Most bachelor's degree programs help students blend traditional humanities courses with studies in their chosen specialty. Bachelor's students in behavioral science are often encouraged to select a concentration, which can guide the focus and progress of their work and career once the degree program is complete.
Over the four years usually covered by a bachelor's program, the course curriculum typically moves from introducing basic concepts in a variety of subjects (in order to build a strong foundation) to discussing the deeper theories and ideas of behavioral science specifically. While bachelor's programs vary, courses you might see during a behavioral science degree program at the bachelor's level could include:
- Applied behavioral science
Master's Degree in Behavioral Science
Master's degrees in behavioral science are the terminal degree for this field, meaning they offer the highest level of education available within this discipline. The concepts covered in these programs are concepts that can apply to careers in personal health, non-profits, community-based organizations, managed care or research. They can also lead students to doctoral-level studies in related fields, such as psychology or public health.
During a master's program, the behavioral sciences major has the chance to study the human mind in-depth. They are expected to conduct their own research while analyzing common cultural issues and diseases that have plagued humans for centuries. Here are some of the courses you might take during one of these programs:
- Alcohol use and alcoholism
- Research methods
- Public health
- Human biology
What Can You Do with a College Degree in Behavioral Science?
A behavioral sciences graduate might enter any one of a wide range of careers within multiple different fields. Though many behavioral science majors start their undergraduate degree programs fresh from high school, established professionals are also returning to school to fortify their work experience. Where the future leads for any of these students, however, depends on the level of behavioral science degree they pursue during college, as well as their choice of specialization.
Before you choose to earn a behavioral science degree, it's important to research potential career options to see which profession(s) could fit your lifestyle and skill set. For example:
Because these professionals study the character, evolution and impact of geography on groups of people, anthropologists can be found in places as diverse as government agencies to nonprofit organizations. By studying the societal causes of crime, poverty and social unrest, anthropologists can help develop strategic programs for improvement, as well as pitch those programs in ways that appeal to diverse populations.
- Anthropologists typically need a master's degree for entry-level work, although a Ph.D. is also common.
- Anthropologists aren't typically licensed, but they do need extensive education and experience to work in their field.
Some behavioral specialists analyze the non-legal aspects of crime so they can understand the root causes of criminal activity in their community. Criminologists, on the other hand, use their skills to anticipate crime by analyzing patterns that incorporate race, economics, demographics and geography. As a result, criminologists can plan and deploy "prevention campaigns." These programs strive to reduce crime rates by eliminating the influences that encourage criminal activity.
- Most criminologists need a master's degree or Ph.D., although professionals with a bachelor's degree may find work in a closely-related field.
- Criminologists don't need to become certified to work in the field.
Traditionally, many behavioral scientists haven taken on careers in social work so they could use their skills to help clients or communities improve their living situations. Some social workers are taking this further, however. With so many small-scale agencies overwhelmed by cases of child abuse or domestic violence, some organizations have shifted their resources to large-scale research and prevention efforts. By eliminating some of the deep causes of poverty and violence in communities, social workers can initiate long-term improvements for entire populations.
- Although some social workers only need a bachelor's degree, clinical social workers need a master's degree and two years of supervised work in a clinical setting.
- Clinical social workers need to become licensed to work in their state.
In the competitive global marketplace, businesses want to explore every tool and resource that can give them an edge. Corporations have realized that even slight improvements in processes, procedures or work environments can lead to a major impact on the bottom line.
Behavioral scientists working as corporate coaches or training and development managers can act as agents of change within an organization, helping to recruit and retain talented employees. On the other hand, corporate coaches and training and development managers can also identify external trends that allow companies to capture market share from their competitors.
- While some corporate coaches get their start with a bachelor's degree, many employers prefer candidates with a master's degree.
- Both the Association for Talent Development and the International Society for Performance Management offer certification for these workers, although it is not mandatory.
Market Research Analyst
Companies and governments understand that consumers don't always make decisions based on the numbers. That's why they increasingly rely on market research analysts to help predict trends that can impact the prices of gas, food, housing and other commodities. By understanding seemingly irrational consumer decisions, businesses can market themselves more effectively and governments can apply pressure to markets for a more beneficial impact in the global economy.
- While some market research analysts get started with a bachelor's degree, many advanced positions require a master's degree.
- Certification is voluntary. However, many market research analysts pursue the Professional Researcher Certification (PRC) through the Marketing Research Association.
Although price is a major factor when consumers make buying decisions, many other elements contribute to those decisions. Market researchers help companies understand the emotional reasons that customers use to justify their choices. Was a particular display stand especially compelling? Did a particular jingle stick in their head? Does the color of the product subtly turn customers away? They translate customer wants and needs into data that companies can understand, so that they can try to make their brands more desirable than others'.
- While some market researchers need only a bachelor's degree, many advanced positions require a master's degree.
- Certification is voluntary. However, many market researchers pursue the Professional Researcher Certification (PRC) through the Marketing Research Association.
Associations and Organizations
Before you decide to become a behavioral science major, it's crucial to gain an understanding of the industry as a whole. One of the ways you can do this is to by exploring the many associations and organizations that supply continuing education and support in this field. Here are a few of the options:
- Society for Human Resource Management -- This organization offers new research and tools for behavioral science majors who pursue a career in human resources. Check out the website for options involving continuing education and online learning opportunities.
- International Society for Performance Improvement -- The International Society for Performance Improvement focuses on offering resources and tools for career coaches and others who use behavioral science to improve human behavior. For corporate coaches and professionals in similar jobs, the Society also offers the Certified Performance Technologist credential.
- Behavioral Science & Policy Association -- This organization offers research, tools and resources for professionals who work in the behavioral science and public policy fields. Multiple networking events and a job board are also run by this association.
- American Association of Behavioral and Social Sciences -- The American Association of Behavioral and Social Sciences hosts regular conferences for professionals who want to continue learning within their field.
- Association for Contextual Behavioral Science -- This organization is dedicated to reducing human suffering through the use of behavioral science. Conferences and events are available for interested parties, as well as mentorships and internships.
- Anthropologists and Archeologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/anthropologists-and-archeologists.htm
- Bachelor of Arts in Applied Behavioral Science, Ashford University, https://www.ashford.edu/online-degrees/social-behavioral-science/bachelor-of-arts-applied-behavioral-science
- Behavioral Science Degree, Bellevue University, http://www.bellevue.edu/degrees/bachelor/behavioral-science-bs/
- Market Research Analysts, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/market-research-analysts.htm#tab-1
- Master's in Behavioral and Social Health Sciences, Brown University, https://www.brown.edu/academics/public-health/behavioral-and-social-sciences/masters-behavioral-and-social-sciences-intervention
- Social Workers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm
- Sociologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/sociologists.htm
- Training and Development Managers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/training-and-development-managers.htm#tab-1