Programming in Psychology

Psychology graduates often need to be, at least, computer literate on the basic level. Computers are, as in most field, used in many ways. The selection and learning of relevant packages for tasks we do are needed. However, many few psychology graduates do know computer coding. Many will have great knowledge in word-processing and statistical analysis. As you will see knowing programming will get you and advantage. You will be able to carry out tasks that not many other Psychological researchers can.

Increasingly, Psychological researchers find themselves facing exponentially larger data sets available on the internet (e.g., data mining) and elsewhere without the proper tools to handle them. A huge amount of Psychologists use spreadsheet software (e.g., Excel) for processing data. Often,  this can mean spending hours clicking around in the interface or copying and pasting. With new datasets the procedure will be repeated. Apart from being a huge waste of time, but the reproducibility the work that have previously been carried out suffer hard. It may often be completely impossible to do the exact same procedure again and the work carried out may be useless.

What kind of language should a Psychologist learn? Some programming languages, such as MATLAB and R, are commonly used by psychologists (and other cognitive scientists). These languages focus on mathematical and statistical operations. In MATLAB you are able to do psychological experiments (e.g., using Psych Toolbox), create mathematical and statistical models of cognitive functions or phenomena. Of course you can also code your statistical analysis with MATLAB. R is more focused on statistical computing, as far as I know anyway. I have seen some modelling and neural network packages for R also. However, I am yet to see a package for conducting experiments. Python is another language that has received increasing use lately. It is a general-purpose language, similar as tC and C++. However, it is a interpretative language. That is, it is a scripting language and one of the easiest languages to use. There are some packages for creating psychological experiments, such as PsychoPy,  and a bunch of libraries that can be used for scraping the web of data. Also you can conduct statistical analysis using packages such as NumPy, Pandas, and Statsmodels. In fact, the SciPy stack is very useful.

There are also JavaScript libraries to use to create experiments to run online. Running experiments online seems to be a new phenomena but give you the possibility to collect a huge amount of data in short periods of time. For instance, using Amazon Mechanical Turk seems to be popular in the US.

Programming is fun, try it!



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