The psychology program contributes to the liberal education of Reed students by emphasizing the application of empirical methods to the study of cognitive, affective, social, and behavioral processes. Students are exposed to the science of mind, behavior and relationships, are asked to engage in library and "hands-on" research projects, and are given many opportunities to improve their abilities to read and critique research articles, to write, and to present materials orally.

Courses in psychology focus on problems in the understanding of both human and animal behavior. The department adopts an empirical point of view, believing it is through research that we best gain the information necessary to address a broad range of psychological questions. Psychological, biological, and social factors are considered in the context of research findings and current theories of motivation, learning, thinking, language, perception, and human development. Students are encouraged to develop objective and analytic attitudes toward psychological phenomena.

The focus on empirical research begins in the introductory course (Psychology 121 and 122), which includes opportunities for students to discuss psychological research in conferences and to participate in structured research projects. These introductory experiences represent several disciplinary areas within psychology. The 200-level courses provide further exposure to selected research areas within psychology, with few or no prerequisites. Students majoring in psychology gain breadth in the field by completing four of eight “core” courses and by writing the research proposal based on selected readings required to pass the junior qualifying exam. It is not uncommon for psychology students to publish the results of their research in professional journals jointly with faculty members.

In addition to the laboratory and computer facilities in the department, there are opportunities for students to conduct research or to work as participant observers in a number of community settings, including day care centers, local schools, crisis centers, and juvenile detention centers. Students also have access to research programs at the Oregon Health & Science University and the Oregon National Primate Research Center.

A major in psychology frequently leads to professional or graduate study in psychology. Those who intend to do graduate work in psychology should broaden their preparation in mathematics, the natural sciences, philosophy, linguistics, or the social sciences, rather than concentrating solely on psychology. Some students combine a major in psychology with preparation for medical school, law school, or other advanced professional training. Recent psychology majors have also entered careers in such diverse areas as computer science, banking, and politics.