MSc/PGDip/PGCert Business Psychology

Psychology shows us how to carry out business effectively, on the basis of scientifically-derived evidence.

The MSc/PGDip/PGCert in Business Psychology is aimed at people who aspire to, or already have, a career in the business world. It provides detailed understanding of the many and varied applications of psychology to the business world, so that graduates are well-equipped for future employment. The programme materials emphasise lessons for actual business practice.

The programme addresses optimal means of designing products, how to get the most out of employees, how to lead employees, how to attract customers, and how to successfully change commercial organisations.

Each course provides students with a 'Guide for Line Managers', which they can use with their (prospective) employers to highlight the key lessons learned for their own business practice.

Study path

MSc students take all the courses below; PG Diploma students take all the courses except the project; and PG Certificate students select four courses:

Students may also take individual courses on a continuing professional development basis.

Completion of a lower qualification leads to course credit for higher qualifications.

Assessment is by coursework and examination, which focuses throughout on how the lessons learned apply to your own business practice.

10 reasons to study MSc Business Psychology

  1. Students are provided with full text teaching materials. The teaching and assessment in each module ask students, in effect, to consider how the material relates to their own business practice. The MSc project also gives students the opportunity to use the literature to devise a set of policies and procedures that will enhance a particular areas of their business practice.
  2. Why do this rather than a management MSc? Business is about people, namely designing products that people can use safely and which appeal to people, encouraging people to buy products, and managing people. Business psychology helps you to understand the 'people' aspects of business, and so is relevant to anyone involved in management, product design, or sales.
  3. Why do this rather than an MSc in Organisational Psychology? An MSc in Organisational Psychology has far more emphasis on research methods. While there will always be some psychologists working within business who actually carry out research and administer personality tests, psychology is relevant to a much broader range of business topics.
  4. Course materials devised with input from advisory board of business leaders.
  5. International relevance, as the course contains a strong coverage of how the material applies in differing global regions (e.g., the module on organisational culture). It equips you well for working overseas or with multinationals.
  6. No prior knowledge of business or psychology is assumed. As the course is relevant to people with a business background we can't assume that students on the course will have studied psychology before: as the course is relevant to people with a psychology background we can't assume that students on the course will have studied business before.
  7. Excellent e-Library facilities (e.g., electronic access to the full text of 500+ journals and a large number of ebooks)
  8. Flexible entry requirements. A degree in any subject is required for entry to the MSc. Extensive business experience alone allows entry on to the Diploma, and five years of business experience allows entry to the Certificate. We can grant an exemption from one module based on approved prior learning. Students with no qualifications can take individual modules for career development (and can actually use these for course credit so that thy can matriculate themselves simply by completing the course one module at a time!)
  9. Each module contains a line manager guide, which in effect is a letter written by the course leader to a prospective employer to explain what a student who has completed the module will bring to the workplace.
  10. Psychology at Heriot Watt came top in the most recent National Student Survey, the main measure of teaching quality and student satisfaction undertaken by British universities.

Course descriptions

Consumer and Economic Psychology

This module describes the major features of consumer and economic psychology. Each of the eight Units addresses a discrete topic, with particular emphasis on the application of the principles in question to particular commercial issues. The module begins with psychological processes that occur entirely within the individual concerned, and then progresses towards a consideration of first the interpersonal, and then the broader cultural groups that the individual operates within.

  • Unit 1 describes basic principles of perception, attention, and learning; with particular reference to how these are active processes that filter out information likely to be irrelevant to the consumer in question and filter in information that is likely to be useful to him or her. These basic principles have considerable implications for the optimal means of presenting information to consumers; and the basic principles of learning theory that are also described in this Unit can similarly be used to encourage customers to behave as desired.
  • In Unit 2 we address how consumers’ decision-making and attitudes are not strictly logical and can instead be biased, with detailed consideration of the implications of this for optimal methods of advertising and persuasion.
  • Unit 3 addresses motivation and personality, explaining why consumers might be more interested in certain products and services than others, and why some individuals differ from others in this respect.
  • Unit 4 deals with one particular aspect of personality, namely opinion leadership; and this in turn leads to a consideration of social psychological principles in consumption, namely conformity to reference groups of consumers, how consumption of products and services is related to our identity, and how certain products become (un)fashionable over extended periods of time.
  • Unit 5 follows this emphasis on how individual consumers differ from one another, by considering how it is nonetheless possible to divide the overall market for a product or service into segments of consumers, with each segment defined by the personality, values, and lifestyle of those concerned.
  • Unit 6 considers how consumer behaviour is influenced by the physical context in which it occurs, considering the impact of location; the atmosphere of the premises in question: perceived quality of service; and how to influence consumers’ perception of waiting time and the amount of time they have spent consuming services.
  • Unit 7 considers the role of culture in consumer behaviour, discussing the main dimensions along which consumers in different cultures differ from one another; and the implications of this for marketing and advertising in different global regions.
  • Unit 8 addresses three contemporary topics in consumer psychology, namely internet-based consumer behaviour, ‘green’ (i.e., ethical and sustainable) consumption, and the fast-emerging field of neuroeconomics.

Leadership

This module addresses what constitutes effective leadership and how leadership skills can be improved. Each of the eight Units introduces a key reading in the area of concern, and the introductory text and key reading complement one another in forming the core teaching materials.

  • Unit 1 introduces leadership in the context of how thinking on the subject has developed over the last century. We consider autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire approaches; contingency theories; and transactional and transformational approaches.
  • Unit 2 considers leadership in the context of social identity theory. We consider the implications of the degree of correspondence between the leader and his / her followers.
  • Unit 3 considers leadership as a group phenomenon. A leader is responsible for a group of individuals, with implications for perceptions of that leader; and we see how different types of groups are more suited to different types of task.
  • Unit 4 considers a leader's power. After distinguishing power from prestige and leadership, we consider the power levers available to a particular leader; and how the exercise of power should be contingent on the culture of the organisation in question.
  • Unit 5 addresses diversity issues in leadership. The Unit argues that the low proportion of female managers is attributable to an inaccurate stereotype that females lack core leadership competencies; and explains the origin of this stereotype. The module also addresses cross-cultural limitations to existing theories of leadership.
  • Unit 6 deals with leadership in times of organisational change. It considers why employees might resist change; and some of the strategies that can be used to lead effectively through organisational change.
  • Unit 7 deals with several practical issues in leadership. It considers the limitations of the notion of the leader as a 'hero', and argues that positive psychology, and particularly emotional intelligence, provides a better framework for inspirational, transformative leadership that also tends to be more successful than approaches to leadership based on conventional cognitive intelligence.
  • Unit 8 considers the main approaches that have been taken by organisations to developing leadership abilities. The approach espoused by the Centre for Creative Leadership emphasises the self-knowledge of the leader in question; Adair's action-centred leadership focuses on the functional elements (e.g., planning) in relation to the essential components of leadership (i.e., task, team, and individual); and Boyatzis's approach concerns cognitive abilities and also emotional intelligence.

Psychology of Coaching

This module describes the role of coaching in business practice. We address practical issues in the introduction of a coaching programme into an organisation, and the ongoing management of such. We also consider the associated psychological principles and theories, the particular approaches to coaching that arise when one or another of these principles and theories is given prominence by the coach, and the associated professional issues that follow from this emphasis. The module is organised from a practical standpoint.

Units 1-3 describe what coaching is in general terms, what a typical coaching session looks like, and what the primary functions of coaching are.

Units 4-7 provide more detail on the key psychological elements of coaching, describing the role of goals, motivations and differing theoretical perspectives in actual coaching practice.

Finally, Unit 8 assumes that the decision to implement a coaching programme has been adopted by the organisation, and addresses some practical next steps that should be taken.

The content of each individual Unit is as follows:

  • Unit 1 provides a brief introduction to the nature and functions of coaching in organisations. We consider coaching relative to other methods that organisations use to develop employees; and briefly overview what coaching actually is from the standpoint of the recipient and the recipient's organisation.
  • Unit 2 considers the similarities and differences between coaching, mentoring and counselling; the role of coaching in developing an organisation's core competencies; an outline of the more specific issues that might be addressed in a particular coaching session; and the steps that should be taken in introducing a coaching programme to an organisation.
  • Unit 3 considers coaching as a means of talent management. It describes why talent management is becoming increasingly important; and then introduces Clayton's (2005) notion of 'lenses' as a means of approaching coaching. The Unit then considers coaching of two particular groups, namely executives and teams.
  • Unit 4 addresses the roles of goals and motivations in coaching practice. It describes how a goal is a manifestation of a motivation, and some of the psychological implications that setting a goal has for the individual concerned. The Unit also considers how goals should be set for coachees, and whether they deserve a prominent role in coaching.
  • Unit 5 discusses coaching from the perspective of positive psychology. It discusses the nature of the key strengths that can be developed among particular coachees, before then considering emotional intelligence (and in particular, intrapersonal intelligence and emotion-related skills). The Unit then considers how coaching can be used to help coachees cope with depression, anxiety and anger. The Unit ends with a brief consideration of flow.
  • Unit 6 discusses coaching from the perspective of cognitive behavioural therapy. The Unit describes how a coaching session that uses this approach might operate. The Unit next describes the most common dysfunctional thought processes; the role of self-efficacy; and one particular approach to regulating emotions.
  • Unit 7 discusses coaching from the perspective of psychodynamics and psychoanalytic theory. The Unit emphasises the limitations and advantages of such an approach to coaching, as illustrated by two case studies, and highlights the important professional issues this perspective raises.
  • Unit 8 discusses coaching from an organisational standpoint. It highlights how an organisation that wishes to employ coaching must first understand its own broader priorities and strategies for developing the business. The Unit then highlights some practical considerations in the engagement of coaching services, and some practical steps in the ongoing management of this. The Unit highlights how the selection of assessment instruments that will be used by the coach is a particularly important issue, such that these instruments must reflect the goals of the organisation. The Unit accordingly provides a brief overview of some of the most commonly-used assessment techniques.

Ergonomics

This course aims to introduce students to key principles in Ergonomics.

  • Unit 1 provides a general introduction into the philosophy and approach typically adopted in ergonomics, while reviewing some of the main areas of interest. By the end of this unit, students should understand why ergonomics is relevant to business, how to identify some of the important ideas in ergonomics, how to recognise when these have not been applied, and how to consider ways to address such shortcomings.
  • Unit 2 considers human error. It discusses the fundamental error prone nature of the human. Why we will always make errors, the types of errors we make, and what we can do to reduce the implications of these. By recognising our limitations we can define, design and train to optimise our systems.
  • In Unit 3, the benefits of a structured approach to ergonomics/human factors and its application to systems in our businesses is presented. Considering when systems fail is used to show the benefits of ‘systems thinking’ to optimise the components of our daily lives. In taking this approach, we may reduce errors, integrate more effectively and be more productive.
  • Unit 4 aims to review the primary considerations in developing an understanding of the variability of human body size, strength and stamina. It reviews why this is important in the design of our workplaces and business practices and how it is commonly not sufficiently considered. A practical activity is encouraged which may reveal scientific data regarding your own body that you may be only previously vaguely aware of.
  • Unit 5 introduces in a little more detail to some of the human factors considerations to supporting sympathetic interaction with our daily activities. To achieve this, we need to appreciate our capabilities and limitations to maximising satisfaction and performance.
    The unit considers human information processing, controls and controlling, displays and displaying and sensing. These are huge topics, and they can only be very generally considered in the unit. However, recommended reading and supported other references are provided to support a deeper investigation of these areas.
  • Unit 6 reinforces the importance of early and repeated consideration of the user in ergonomics in the workplace. It reviews some of the common methods of eliciting feedback from users in a manner that facilities improved task execution. Specifically, we are concerned with what is known as a ‘user trial’. User trials are a primary data collection method adopted by ergonomists.
  • Unit 7 aims to introduce the student to some of the important considerations in human computer interaction. The focus is on the design of the software interface, rather than the physical risks associated with computer use, as we are primarily interested in the psychology of the interaction. The ubiquity of the computer in our workplaces and lives, the widespread difficulties experienced by users, and the potential seriousness of errors, make this an important unit.
  • Unit 8 considers some of the main considerations in focusing our attention on things of interest, and why we sometimes find ourselves distracted from these goals. By understanding a little about how our attentional mechanisms influence our ability to concentrate on the task in hand we can often adjust our environment and activities to mediate any detrimental features. If we understand our distractions, we can better focus our business efforts on the factors we need to.

In summary, the course reviews some of the contemporary workplace ergonomics challenges and considers how can we use design to make work more rewarding, efficient and productive.

Organisational Culture

Organisational Culture considers how the culture in which a business operates can influence all aspects of its commercial practice, from those markets and challenges that it identifies as interesting or important, to the means by which it organises itself in order to address these; the manner by which it defines organisational roles; the means by which it motivates employees; the means by which groups of employees interact; the approach to leadership taken by senior managers; and the strategic decisions that these managers make.

  • Unit 1 considers how culture might be defined. We focus on the dimensions of culture highlighted by both Hofstede's and Trompenaars's work, and consider the extent to which they apply explicitly outside the Western world.
  • Unit 2 considers how the national culture in which an organisation operates can influence the cultures of those organisations operating therein; and in particular how these relate to the control mechanisms that an organisation employs. We consider two detailed case studies that illustrate how these processes play out in practice.
  • Unit 3 describes how culture shapes the design of an organisation. We review the key factors in designing organisations; before focussing on how these might (not) be diverging internationally; and how several cultural factors might influence organisational design.
  • Unit 4 considers how culture influences job design. We argue that these two factors are in a reciprocal relationship via a detailed case study. We consider a well-known model of job characteristics; and how an emphasis on flexible working practices and job satisfaction requires greater consideration of job design and the role of culture in this.
  • Unit 5 addresses how cultural factors mediate employee motivation in the workplace and managers' responses to employee performance. This leads to consideration of cross-national differences in conceptualising motivation and reward for high performance.
  • Unit 6 considers the role of culture in those circumstances in which employees work in groups. After considering why organisations use groups, we consider how decision-making and meetings might vary between individualist and communitarian cultures; and how differing cultures lead to differing conceptions of the group in the workplace and team-working in particular.
  • Unit 7 considers the relationship between the leader of an organisation and the the culture that he / she creates. We describe how founding members influence the mission of an organisation; and how leaders embed their vision of the organisation into its culture. This culture eventually comes to cause rather than reflect an organisation's behaviour, so that leaders of mature organisations can recognise and allow for the impact of organisational culture on everyday and strategic functioning.
  • Unit 8 considers the impact of culture on strategic decision making. We see how, in addition to the clichéd military metaphors, strategy can instead be defined as an evolving response to situations as they arise, which in turn is difficult to separate from conventional definitions of culture. We next consider how competitive advantage may depend on establishing a competitive culture; and the role of stakeholders in this.

Social and Organisational Change

  • Social and Organisational Change considers why organisational change is currently so prevalent, and those strategies that might best be implemented for bringing it about.
  • Unit 1 provides some background to the issue of organisational change. It considers those major discontinuities between society in the past and in the near future, and the imperative that these bring about for organisational change. We consider how organisations have attempted to become more flexible in the light of the discontinuities and six approaches for managing change.
  • Unit 2 considers organisational change from the perspective of the individual employee. The emphasis is on how individual’s perceive change, and so we consider the notion of the mindset, how employees are predisposed to attempt to identify benefits from change, self-efficacy, and the use of selection to develop key skills relevant to change.
  • Unit 3 considers organisational change from the perspective of team working. We begin by considering the growing popularity of team working, before considering the organisational conditions that best facilitate this. We then consider how best to change teams, particularly via the use of coaching.
  • Unit 4 considers change at the level of the organisation. Considerable attention is given to the differing metaphors that have been used popularly in describing organisational change, and the particular implications that each of these has for change strategies and their likely outcomes. We also consider Lewin’s account of change and future search conferences.
  • Unit 5 considers the most popular paradigms that have been used to guide organisational change. After considering why many businesses have had to change the paradigm to which they operate over recent years, we describe both the culture-excellence paradigm and the Japanese management paradigm. We also consider the apparent limitations of both paradigms.
  • Unit 6 approaches change from the perspective of innovation and creativity. We consider the differing approaches to creativity, which concern the person, the process and the product respectively. This helps us to consider why degrees of innovativeness vary between organisations and how best to promote innovative organisations; and also whether innovation occurs really at the level of the individual employee or organisation as a whole.
  • Unit 7 describes the contribution to organisational change initiatives that has been made over recent years by positive psychology. The notion of flow describes how new challenges can be intrinsically rewarding, irrespective of the material rewards that the individual accrues subsequent to their successful completion; and that the demands of a role should match the individual’s capacity to carry out the work. We also consider how employees are predisposed to be overly optimistic about the outcome of change initiatives, and then perceptions of self-competence; and the implications of both for how an individual will approach change situations.
  • Unit 8 considers more mundane aspects of organisational change. It describes the psychological contract, and the consequences of breaches and violations of this. Changes to the business climate over recent years mean that the psychological contract is changing too, and so we consider this in the context of Exchange Theory and social justice.

Diversity

Diversity considers the commercial implications of growing diversity in the workplace, with particular regard to optimal management techniques.

  • Unit 1 considers the changing diversity position of businesses in many countries. We consider some of the basic demographic patterns affecting businesses, the legal position concerning diversity, and the importance of good diversity management from a more positive perspective.
  • Unit 2 considers national and cultural diversity in organisations. We consider how every individual is multicultural, and how identity changes with context. In particular we note how national identity includes notions such as time, location, and culture; and the main dimensions along which people in differing countries may differ.
  • Unit 3 considers how to promote diversity via active management. In particular, we consider how this can help in selection, appraisal, promotion and career progression; and also three approaches to developing appreciation of diversity within an organisation.
  • Unit 4 considers stereotyping. After describing the psychological implications of stereotyping in general, we consider this specifically in terms of social distance from the main group; and do so in detail via a case study involving physical disability. Finally, the Unit considers how the accuracy and valency of stereotypes can be distinguished; and how to best address workplace stereotypes.
  • Unit 5 addresses sexual orientation. It provides some basic factual information concerning legal issues, organisational practice, and the prevalence of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in workplaces in the West; and describes how Western attitudes to sexual orientation have changed over recent decades.
  • Unit 6 describes why organisations should value diversity. We place particular emphasis here on older workers, and how the negative stereotypes of them are inaccurate. We similarly describe precisely how evaluations of people from minority ethnic / racial groups come to be biased. Finally, address the position of women in organisational hierarchies.
  • Unit 7 considers diversity explicitly from the standpoint of organisations which operate within several cultures. We consider diversity from Chinese and African perspectives, and then address high- and low-context cultures more generally. Next we consider diversity issues in multicultural (and therefore heterogeneous) senior management teams; and end with case studies of how recruitment and training respectively are handled by two multinationals.
  • Unit 8 describes how women, people with disabilities, and differing racial groups define themselves. Individuals have several identities, and we consider how females' self-construals reflect a more collectivist approach, with implications for reactions to feedback and self-esteem. We also see how people with disabilities do not have negative self-perceptions and how racial identity is multidimensional; and end by considering social categorisation theory.

Research Methods

This module describes how to carry out scientific research in everyday contexts. The module provides explicit preparation for the MSc project, but the material (is written so that it) also has direct relevance to students’ practice in real life business contexts, where an understanding of scientific research methods is perhaps not as well known as it might be.

The eight Units in this module are as follows:

  • Unit 1 introduces the notion of how scientific research provides the optimal basis for expanding the knowledge-base in any area of business practice. It focusses on the concept of validity; how different types of research (i.e., experimental versus correlational) are more appropriate in answering different types of questions; and the basic processes that are involved in planning a piece of research. The Unit ends by considering ethical issues in research (including plagiarism).
  • Unit 2 describes the process of carrying out a literature review. It begins by describing why it is important to carry out a review of the existing literature in the field, and the issues that a good literature review should address. It then provides guidance on using PsycINFO, the most commonly used literature searching tool, and how to subsequently produce a narrative literature review. This is one of the key skills that will be needed by students who take the ‘extended essay’ approach to their MSc project. The module then ends by describing meta-analysis, which is a powerful technique that allows a researcher to say whether the existing body of evidence as a whole supports or does not support the efficacy of a given intervention.
  • Unit 3 introduces qualitative research methods. It begins by describing several approaches to this (positivism, post-positivism, critical theory, and constructionism), before then describing the specific methods used in qualitative research. Finally, the Unit provides explicit guidance on how to analyse qualitative data via grounded theory, and then how to report the results of this.
  • Unit 4 describes quantitative surveying methods. It describes different approaches to sampling and to designing survey research. It then discusses the different methods of collecting survey data, and how to develop good questionnaires.
  • Unit 5 describes experimental approaches to collecting data. It describes the basic principles of experimental research and the different types of experimental designs that can be used. It then considers quasi-experimental research, which is the type most typically carried out in business-related contexts.
  • Unit 6 describes how to analyse, interpret, and report the results of quantitative survey research. We cover the inferential tests used most commonly in analysing survey data namely correlation, multiple regression, factor analysis, and chi-squared tests, including a description of what each test does in practical terms, how to carry out the test using SPSS, and how to interpret and report the output of this.
  • Unit 7 describes how to analyse, interpret, and report the results of experimental research. We briefly consider measures of central tendency, before then moving on to the inferential tests used commonly in analysing experimental data, namely t-tests, one-way ANOVA, and ANOVA, including a description of what each test does in practical terms, how to carry out the test using SPSS, and how to interpret and report the output of this.
  • Unit 8 describes how to write reports of research. It overviews the standard format of a report that should be used in reporting a research-based MSc project or writing a report of research findings for an academic journal. Note that this same format can also be extremely helpful in reporting the results of research carried out for business, as it ensures that none of the crucial information can be missed out.