The UX Psychologist

Breaking It Down

The concept of psychology as a formal behavior science is a vast topic. There is no way I could capture everything in a single blog post. So I’ve taken what I feel are key areas of study and put them in 3 general groups:

Behavior Science

This group forms the areas that examine just how the brain, behavior and thinking work on both a physical and cognitive level. Let’s begin where everything starts and ends: the physical brain.


Neuropsychology deals with the neural anatomy of the brain and the physiology of all human thought and behavior. It’s how everything “happens.” I have always held neuropsychology as my favorite area of study. The limitless complexity of how thought, memory, learning and emotion interact on a physical level is the fundamental base that all the rest of psychology rests on.

Download this vector poster here

Experimental Analysis of Behavior

Stacking right on top of neuropsychology is behaviorism. Broken down into a single sentence, behaviorism is about conditioning and shaping behavior through reinforcing specific actions. BF Skinner conditioned pigeons to know how to push the correct buttons to get food, Ivan Pavlov conditioned dogs to salivate when a bell was rung. UX designers condition people to take actions that facilitate the experiences we are trying to create. It is all the exact same thing. BF Skinner and Ivan Pavlov? They were just pioneering interaction and interface designers.

Cognitive Psychology

We started with the brain, now let’s talk about the mind. Cognitive psychology is all about how we think. Thinking encompasses memory, learning, encoding, recall, perception, language, problem solving, abstraction… all of the things we think of when we think of thinking. Thinking about thinking. Personality, intelligence, emotion, it’s all based in the higher order cognition that makes every person so unique and unpredictable.

Research, Assessment and Statistics

One of the misleading portrayals about psychology is that it is all about the “talking” part. Movies, TV, books all show the counseling, therapy, “clinical” aspects of professional psychology. The boring reality is that most of psychology is about research, testing and statistics. Everything we know about modern human behavior is coming out of the work being done in countless labs and universities across the world.

Research Design

This is the planning that goes into building a hypothesis and designing the way you are going to gather data and run your own experiments. Scientific research design an area of study that is so detailed and rigorous, I don’t think it’s something that can be learned without some sort of formal education process.

Assessment and Testing

Assessment is a subset of research. It’s all about constructing and administering batteries. Things like intelligence tests, personality tests, aptitude tests, and diagnostic tests for things like depression or anxiety. Part is just gathering qualitative data, and part is confirming or refuting assumptions with quantitative data.

Quantitative Psychology

Statistics is a science unto itself. It’s fascinating to see that big-data is taking over the world of technology and startups.

Applied Psychology

Throughout all my education, applied psychology is where I spent the most time. This is taking all of the principles of psychology and applying them with how you interact with people. When you picture someone lying back on a couch while a white-bearded Austrian* says, “Tell me about your childhood,” that’s applied psychology.


I want to single out empathy apart from everything else. When a person wants to become a psychologist who works with people, there is a huge focus on learning and practicing empathy. All of us have varying levels of natural empathy, some people are very empathetic, and some aren’t at all. But to be a practicing psychologist, counselor, or therapist, empathy is something you are trained in and constantly practice and improve upon.


One of the most important aspects of applied psychology that can be used in UX is reflective listening. It’s a simple but nuanced practice where you genuinely focus on what someone is saying, and then reflect it back to them to confirm that you understood correctly. What happens is the listener begins to empathize more and more as they are focused just on understanding and clarifying what is being said, and the speaker begins to feel a sense of safety and validation from being heard without judgment or interruption. As the interaction continues, the listener is able to elicit deeper and more meaningful responses that they would have otherwise.



Fiction author, Sr. Principal Design Strategist at Mural. Everything has a narrative arc, my job is to make it a good one.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Erik Flowers

Erik Flowers


Fiction author, Sr. Principal Design Strategist at Mural. Everything has a narrative arc, my job is to make it a good one.