# How much math is there in grad school psychology relative to economics?

May 5, 2006 8:33 AM Subscribe

How much math is there in graduate level psychology relative to graduate level economics?

tiamat is spot on with regard to psychology, one friend of mine spent his whole, PhD doing nothing but modelling learning patterns in humans, while another had buckets of theory and only a little bit of stats while working on some of her empirical data. Tiamat's assumptions on economics are also pretty correct I think. Heavy on the microeconomics and you might look at nothing but numbers all day, political economy can be much less so. On the whole I'd guess there are more bits of psychology where you might be able to hide from maths completely but I know at least one regulatory economist who very rarely touches maths. Your best bet is to have a look through the modules offered in a few typical graduate courses and weigh up what maths you can accept against what might interest you. Also, stop believing you can't learn.

posted by biffa at 8:58 AM on May 5, 2006

posted by biffa at 8:58 AM on May 5, 2006

Response by poster: Oh I did my BS in economics and am good at math (by any reasonable standard), it just doesn't tend to interest me very much. Also, I have a good idea of how much math there is in graduate level economics (it is a considerable amount).

posted by I Foody at 9:09 AM on May 5, 2006

posted by I Foody at 9:09 AM on May 5, 2006

Pretty much every graduate programme in psychology (both clinical and experimental) is going to require at least one advanced class in statistics as part of the degree (most programmes I'm familiar with require two classes). This is usually in addition to having completed a couple of maths/statistics classes at the undergraduate level, so anyone with a PhD in psychology should have a pretty good background in statistics.

Psychology is a pretty diverse field, so on a day-to-day basis, different fields of psychology are going to vary quite a bit as to how much maths/statistics they use. Quite a few psychologists are exclusively concerned with applying mathematical and statistical methods to psychology (quantitative psychology and a lot of people in cognitive science as well). While other fields (such as clinical psychology) require a strong working knowledge of statistics (to interpret various tests and scores), but probably don't use much maths on a daily basis.

posted by trident at 10:15 AM on May 5, 2006

Psychology is a pretty diverse field, so on a day-to-day basis, different fields of psychology are going to vary quite a bit as to how much maths/statistics they use. Quite a few psychologists are exclusively concerned with applying mathematical and statistical methods to psychology (quantitative psychology and a lot of people in cognitive science as well). While other fields (such as clinical psychology) require a strong working knowledge of statistics (to interpret various tests and scores), but probably don't use much maths on a daily basis.

posted by trident at 10:15 AM on May 5, 2006

Response by poster: No apology necessary, I could have better phrased my question and avoided your reasonable misunderstanding.

posted by I Foody at 11:14 AM on May 5, 2006

posted by I Foody at 11:14 AM on May 5, 2006

Best answer: Modern day economics is extremely mathematicized. I'll be a PhD student at a fairly highly ranked program next fall, and it is my impression that successful students need an extremely rigorous math background. For instance, I found that most of the (American students at least) majored in math in college (I did). Also, nearly all programs hold a "math camp" in the summer before the first year in which they review analysis, topology, nonlinear programming, et cetera. Graduate economics is

I can't speak as confidently about psychology programs, as my information is mostly secondhand. A few friends, though, are entering psychology graduate programs next year and they feel very comfortable with some basic statistics, and a couple of semesters of calculus.

My general impression, then, is that a fundamental difference between the two disciplines is that economics relies heavily on a theorectical framework rooted in mathematical language, while psychology -- and other social sciences in general -- do not do this.

I think if you can handle, say, a fairly tough undergrad econometrics class, you should be fine with psych grad study.

posted by diftb at 2:47 PM on May 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

*very different*from undergraduate economics -- the first year , especially, relies heavily on theorectical math (read: proofs). Here is a great site about economics graduate study.I can't speak as confidently about psychology programs, as my information is mostly secondhand. A few friends, though, are entering psychology graduate programs next year and they feel very comfortable with some basic statistics, and a couple of semesters of calculus.

My general impression, then, is that a fundamental difference between the two disciplines is that economics relies heavily on a theorectical framework rooted in mathematical language, while psychology -- and other social sciences in general -- do not do this.

I think if you can handle, say, a fairly tough undergrad econometrics class, you should be fine with psych grad study.

posted by diftb at 2:47 PM on May 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

I did my PhD in psychology and TA'd an econ course. Unless you are particularly interested in mathematical psychology, quantitative psych or computational modeling, the econ degree is going to be much more mathematical. In psych you will have to take one or two stats classes, but they are more focused on application than the underlying math.

You can get a PhD in psych knowing only matrix algebra, while completing an econ degree without using calculus is a rare feat.

posted by i love cheese at 4:51 PM on May 5, 2006

You can get a PhD in psych knowing only matrix algebra, while completing an econ degree without using calculus is a rare feat.

posted by i love cheese at 4:51 PM on May 5, 2006

I'm doing my PhD in cognitive neuroscience, and we get into pretty heavy mathematical modeling.

posted by dmd at 9:02 PM on May 5, 2006

posted by dmd at 9:02 PM on May 5, 2006

I would imagine that a strong statistical background would be

But mostly you'll just be looking for correlations and whatnot, as long as you have a 'tool belt' of a couple of useful formulas, you'll be OK.

Econ will be basically all math, I could even see applications of differential equations. Even in econ 101 you'd be hit with the kind of thing that you need calculus for, and a lot more then one or two formulas.

posted by delmoi at 11:27 PM on May 5, 2006

*helpful*in examining experimental data in Psych, but not*necessary*in practice. I mean you'll be in 'teams' and if one person on the team can do the math, you'll be fine.But mostly you'll just be looking for correlations and whatnot, as long as you have a 'tool belt' of a couple of useful formulas, you'll be OK.

Econ will be basically all math, I could even see applications of differential equations. Even in econ 101 you'd be hit with the kind of thing that you need calculus for, and a lot more then one or two formulas.

posted by delmoi at 11:27 PM on May 5, 2006

This thread is closed to new comments.

I don't know as much about economics, but I would assume there's a range there depending on what you're doing with the degree, or what areas you specialize in when you're studying.

Of course, IAMAPoE (Pyschologist or Economist), so YMMV.

posted by tiamat at 8:38 AM on May 5, 2006