PhD in Behavioral Psychology – Everything You Need to Know in 2024

At a glance

Summary A PhD in behavioral psychology is an advanced academic degree focused on understanding and analyzing human behavior through rigorous research, experimentation, and theoretical exploration.
Entry Requirements Master’s degree in psychology
Completion Time 4-6 years
Coursework & Credits 60-120 credits, including coursework in general psychology, research methods, behavior analysis, and cognitive processes
Cost $10,000 – $40,000 per year
Post PhD Steps After earning the PhD, most individuals need to become licensed to practice as psychologists, which entails additional supervised hours and passing a licensing exam.
Career Opportunities Addiction Counselor ABA therapist, Mental Health Therapist, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, School Psychologist, Organizational Psychologist, Forensic Psychologist, Sports, Psychologist, Clinical psychologist, Counseling psychologist, Research psychologist, Child psychologist
Earning Potential $118,000+ annually


A PhD in Behavioral Psychology is an advanced academic degree that provides students with the highest level of training in the principles of behavioral psychology and their applications.. Behavioral Psychology or behaviorism is a subfield of psychology that emphasizes observable and measurable behaviors, rather than internal mental processes.

A PhD in Behavioral Psychology usually takes 4 to 6 years to complete.

Students will typically undertake rigorous coursework in areas such as behavioral neuroscience, learning and memory, personality, and social psychology. They will also engage in research projects that involve the development and testing of theories related to behavior and mental processes.

Why get a PhD in behavioral psychology?

Higher Earning Potential

Pursuing a PhD in Behavioral Psychology can lead to higher earning potential compared to individuals with only a bachelor’s or even master’s degree in behavioral psychology. A report by the American Psychological Association found that individuals with a PhD in Psychology earned an average of $90,000 per year, compared to $60,000 per year for those with a master’s degree in the field.

Research and Contribution to the Field

Pursuing a PhD in Behavioral Psychology allows individuals to conduct original research and make a meaningful contribution to the field of psychology. According to a survey conducted by the Council of Graduate Schools, over 90% of PhD students in psychology report that they engage in research as part of their program. This research can lead to important findings and advances in our understanding of behavior and mental processes. Additionally, individuals with a PhD in Behavioral Psychology may publish their research in academic journals, present their findings at conferences, and contribute to the development of new theories and interventions.

Personal and Professional Development

Pursuing a PhD in Behavioral Psychology can be a challenging but rewarding experience that promotes personal and professional development. According to a survey of PhD students conducted by the National Science Foundation, over 90% of students reported that their PhD program helped them develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills.

What’s covered in a PhD in behavioral psychology?

Graduate school in psychology is both exhilarating and challenging. Pursuing a PhD in behavioral psychology requires a level of dedication, creativity, and resilience that few other careers demand. It is a time to deeply immerse yourself in your research and to develop a unique expertise that will make a difference in the world. You will work closely with faculty mentors who are leaders in their field, and collaborate with other students who are equally passionate about understanding human behavior. Though it can be a long and difficult journey, the rewards of pursuing a PhD in behavioral psychology are immeasurable.
Dr. Samantha Heintzelman, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia

Here are some of the topics that may be covered in a PhD program in Behavioral Psychology:

  • Research Methods: learn about various research methods used in psychology, such as experimental design, statistical analysis, and data collection techniques.
  • Behavioral Neuroscience: study the relationship between the brain and behavior, including topics such as neuroanatomy, neurochemistry, and the neural basis of learning and memory.
  • Cognitive Psychology: learn about cognitive processes such as attention, perception, memory, and problem-solving, and how these processes influence behavior.
  • Personality: study the different theories of personality and how personality traits and characteristics affect behavior.
  • Social Psychology: learn about social behavior, including topics such as group dynamics, interpersonal relationships, and social influence.
  • Developmental Psychology: study human development from infancy to adulthood, including cognitive, social, and emotional development.
  • Abnormal Psychology: learn about abnormal behavior and mental disorders, including diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

Here is an example curriculum for a PhD in Behavioral Psychology:


First Year

  • Research Methods in Psychology
  • Foundations in Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Personality Theory
  • Seminar in Behavioral Psychology

Second Year

  • Advanced Topics in Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Research Apprenticeship

Third Year

  • Advanced Statistics in Psychology
  • Psychometrics and Assessment
  • Seminar in Behavioral Psychology
  • Research Apprenticeship
  • Elective Course

Fourth Year

  • Dissertation Proposal Preparation
  • Advanced Seminar in Behavioral Psychology
  • Advanced Research Apprenticeship
  • Elective Course
  • Dissertation Research

Fifth Year

  • Dissertation Research and Writing
  • Dissertation Defense

Entry Requirements

  1. Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree: Most PhD programs in Behavioral Psychology require applicants to have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in psychology or a related field, although some programs may consider applicants with degrees in other fields such as neuroscience or biology.
  2. GPA: Applicants are typically required to have a minimum GPA of 3.0 or higher in their undergraduate or graduate coursework, although some programs may have higher GPA requirements.
  3. Letters of Recommendation: Applicants are typically required to submit letters of recommendation from academic or professional references who can speak to their potential for success in a PhD program.
  4. Statement of Purpose: Applicants are often required to submit a statement of purpose that outlines their research interests, career goals, and reasons for pursuing a PhD.

How much does a PhD in behavioral psychology cost?

The average annual tuition and fees for doctoral programs in psychology is $16,521 for in-state students and $28,954 for out-of-state students.

*Outside of the licensed psychologist jobs listed above many of the above roles do not require a PhD but it is important to note that employers for these roles are increasingly favoring candidates with a PhD. 

See also: our guide to a career in behavioral psychology

How much can you earn with a PhD in behavioral psychology?

Earning potential with a PhD in behavioral psychology can vary considerably depending upon your location and career path.

Here are some average annual salaries for positions typically help by those with a PhD in behavioral psychology: