What Is Basic Research?

Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

The term basic research refers to study and research that is meant to increase our scientific knowledge base. This type of research is often purely theoretical with the intent of increasing our understanding of certain phenomena or behavior but does not seek to solve or treat these problems.

Examples of Basic Research

Examples of basic research in psychology might include:

  • An investigation looking at what whether stress levels influence how often students engage in academic cheating
  • A study looking at how caffeine consumption impacts the brain
  • A study assessing whether men or women are more likely to suffer from depression

Notice in all of these examples, the goal of the research is to simply increase the amount of knowledge on a topic, not to actually come up with a practical solution to a problem.

However, as Stanovich (2007) notes, many practical solutions to real world problems have emerged directly from basic research. For this reason, the distinction between basic research and applied research is often simply a matter of time. As social psychologist Kurt Lewis once observed, "There is nothing so practical as a good theory."


"It is also important to remember that the applications of basic research may not be obvious when it is initially conducted. The utility of such research to real-world problems may not be revealed until much later when enough is known about an issue to apply the knowledge gained in the basic research studies.

For example, early neuroscientists (e.g., Santiago Ramon y Cajal, as cited in Meyers, 2007) conducted basic research studies to understand how neurons function. The applications of this knowledge were not clear until much later when neuroscientists better understood how this neural functioning affect behavior...

The understanding of the basic knowledge of neural functioning became useful in helping individuals with disorders long after this research had been completed."
(McBride, D. M., 2013)

Also Known As: Pure research or fundamental research


Lewin, K. (1951) Field theory in social science; selected theoretical papers. D. Cartwright (ed.). New York: Harper & Row.

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

Stanovich, K. (2007).  How to Think Straight About Psychology: 8th Edition.  Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Continue Reading