The purpose of applied sciences or applied research is usually centered on answering specific questions with clear applications. But basic research is motivated by our interest in expanding our knowledge in general, or the curiosity to learn new facts about the Universe. This type of research may not be directly applicable to our daily lives, but it expands our understanding of the world.
Theoretical sciences (also known as basic, pure or fundamental sciences) are the scientific disciplines that provide hypothetical explanations and theories about the natural phenomena. In general, basic sciences aim to develop new knowledge and shed light on the wonders of the world.
Theoretical physics, pure mathematics, and molecular genetics are examples of basic sciences.
In contrast, applied or practical sciences are those that study the application of the existing scientific knowledge to our daily lives. In other words, applied sciences aim to develop procedures, techniques, and technologies that ease our difficulties, increase our efficiencies, and help us solve real-life problems.
Medical microbiology, mechanical engineering, and industrial architecture are examples of applied sciences.
Recent scientific thinking and attitudes tend to blur the boundaries between basic and applied sciences. And although some prefer one or the other approach, in reality they both inspire, support and feed into each other, and are essential to the progress of the society, and the improvement of our lives.
However, in recent decades, the dominant scientific culture, and the unique economics of research, have favoured applied sciences, resulting in extensive developments in the applied sciences.
Hopefully, the above explanation makes it easier to understand why the word “applied” is included in the title of some psychological disciplines (e.g. applied psychology). They are the branches of psychology that use the basic theories of the science of psychology, and those of other sciences, to solve practical problems associated with our mental health, behavior and performance.
It’s important to note that many applied disciplines (both in psychology and otherwise) do not use the word “applied” although they are obviously practical disciplines.
Organizational psychology, educational psychology, and counseling psychology are only few examples of applied disciplines in the field of psychology.
Applied positive psychology
Positive psychology started as a movement that tried to move the perspective of the science of psychology more to the positive, and extend its application to the advancement of human strengths, wellbeing and flourishing.
Fortunately, the movement succeeded to achieve this objective to a high degree and has influenced almost all other branches of psychology.
These days its theories are used in organizational psychology, counseling psychology, coaching psychology, and even in clinical psychology.
Considering the primary nature of the positive psychology and the core questions that motivated the movement, Lomas, Hefferon and Ivtzan (2014) defined positive psychology as
“the science and practice of improving wellbeing” with the dominant objective of generating appropriate PPIs (Positive Psychology Interventions).
They described positive psychology as a fundamentally applied discipline that provides a complete scheme of interventions, tools, and practices designed to enhance wellbeing.
In other words, positive psychology, with or without the word “applied” is indeed a practical science.
Some universities around the world prefer to emphasize this fact by calling their positive psychology courses as MAPP (MSc in Applied Positive Psychology).
During the past decade, MAPP graduates have formed a new generation of psychologists, practitioners and consultants whose job is to promote and facilitate happiness, wellbeing and human flourishing across a wide range of industries.
What is basic research? (pdf) retrieved from http://www.nsf.gov/ (National Science Foundation) 05/09/2015.
Roll-Hansen, N. (2009). Why the distinction between basic (theoretical) and applied (practical) research is important in the politics of science. London School of Economics and Political Science, Contingency and Dissent in Science Project.
Lomas, T., Hefferon, K., & Ivtzan, I. (2014). Applied Positive Psychology: Integrated Positive Practice. SAGE.