What Is Applied Research?

Applied researcher working in lab
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Applied research refers to scientific study and research that seeks to solve practical problems. Applied research is used to find solutions to everyday problems, cure illness, and develop innovative technologies. Psychologists working in human factors or industrial/organizational fields often do this type of research.

Examples of Applied Research

A few examples of applied research in psychology include:

  • Investigating which treatment approach is the most effective for reducing anxiety
  • Researching which strategies work best to motivate workers
  • Studying different keyboard designs to determine which is the most efficient and ergonomic
  • Analyzing what type of prompts will inspire people to volunteer their time to charities

As you may notice, all of these examples explore topics that will address a real-world issues. This immediate and practical application of the findings is what distinguished applied research from basic research, which instead focuses on theoretical concerns.

However, researchers also suggest that basic research and applied research are actually closely intertwined. Basic research often informs applied research, and applied research often helps basic researchers refine their own theories.


Since applied research focuses on taking the results of scientific research and utilizing it directly in real world situations, those who work in this line of research tend to be more concerned with the external validity of their work.

External validity refers to the extent that scientific findings can be generalized to other populations. Researchers don't just want to know if the results of their experiments apply to the participants in their studies. They want these results to also apply to larger populations outside of the lab.

"Because applied research investigates realistic problems, applied researchers are often concerned with the external validity of their studies. This means that they attempt to observe behaviors that can be applied to real-life situations," explains Dawn M. McBride in The Process of Research in Psychology. "This is important because these researchers want to be able to apply their results to a problem that applies to individuals who are not participants in their study (as well as to those individuals who were observed in the study. External validity is also a consideration in basic research but in some cases can be less important that it is in applied research."

What are some examples of how applied research is used to solve real-world problems?

  • A hospital might conduct applied research on how to prepare patients for certain types of surgical procedures.
  • A business might hire an applied psychologist to assess how to design a workplace console to maximize efficiency and productivity while minimizing worker fatigue and error.
  • An organization might hire an applied researcher to determine how to select employees that are best suited for certain positions within the company.


McBride, D. M. (2013). The Process of Research in Psychology. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications.

Palmer, E. L. (2004). Applied research. In W. E. Craighead & C. B. Nemeroff (Eds.), The Concise Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology and Behavioral Science. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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