Behavioral Science Careers


By Zora DeGrandpre

Behavioral scientists are able to choose their own unique career paths thanks to the wide variety of applications within this field of study. Combining knowledge of sociology, psychology and anthropology with strong observation and communication skills, a behavioral scientist works with communities and individuals, examining behavior and decision-making. Some specialize in animal behavior, often working in natural environments to study a particular species.

For those who work with people, a career in behavioral science can take one of several paths. Some specialize in Human Resources (HR), training new employees and preparing various employment-related programs. Other behavioral scientists operate in mental health community clinics or prison systems. Those interested in criminal behavior can also work as profilers for law enforcement agencies.

Behavioral science also has a number of sub-specialties. These professionals may become behavioral interventionists who work to find solutions for unwanted or dangerous behavior patterns, or healthcare specialists who help people deal with physical, emotional or mental challenges. A behavioral scientist can also specialize in consumer marketing, public health issues such as diet, nutrition or addictions, and other mental health issues.

In general, behavioral science specialties fall into two categories: neural-decision and social-communication. Neural-decision science studies the way humans make choices or decisions, while social-communication science looks at how humans communicate, both verbally and non-verbally. Regardless of which field or specialty they choose, behavioral scientists enjoy the opportunity to help individuals, make positive changes to society, and further this fascinating scientific field.

Work Environment

Work environments for behavioral scientists are as varied as their career choices. Many of these professionals work in hospitals and healthcare facilities, or within private companies as coaches, analysts or marketers. They also work in prisons or law enforcement agencies as consultants, or in private treatment practices.



A behavioral scientist must hold a four-year bachelor's degree, preferably in Behavioral Science. However, related degrees, such as psychology or sociology, can be used as a springboard. For example, candidates may elect for a degree as a registered nurse, a psychologist, or a social worker, and then go on to obtain a Master's degree or PhD in Behavioral Science.

For those interested in behavioral science, the coursework should include psychology, sociology, statistics, research methods and abnormal psychology. More often than not, a behavioral scientist will hold an advanced degree with some specialization.


The bulk of the training for behavioral scientists is received through a degree program. However, depending on the candidate's area of specialization, he may receive substantial on-the-job training as well.

Licensing and/or Certification

In some cases, such as behavioral scientists who work as consultants, or for a business in an HR or marketing department, licensing or certification is typically not required. However, those who work with individual clients as behavioral counselors or social workers must be licensed according to their state's requirements. The National Board for Certified Counselors offers information on each state's licensing requirements.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Successful behavioral scientists will have strong analytical, organizational and communication skills. For those who work with either individual clients or groups of people, good interpersonal skills are also important, particularly when working to change an individual's behavior.

Opportunities for Advancement

With an advanced degree such as a Master's or PhD, and greater experience, opportunities for advancement can increase significantly for behavioral scientists. For example, those working in the marketing or HR department of a large company can advance to a management position. For professionals working with behavioral intervention in a prison, there are opportunities to move ahead into criminology or profiling.

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In 2011, the median salary for behavioral scientists working primarily in industry positions was $61,494. However, salaries in this field vary widely, and are dependent on the specific position held, as well as whether the scientist works for the government or private industry. In most cases, private industry careers offer higher pay.

Job Outlook

For behavioral scientists, there is a projected 10% to 19% increase in employment opportunities through 2020. This growth is slightly faster than average when compared to other careers.

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Also, check out our Health Careers page for more career guides.

Further Reading

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