Comparative Psychology: Exploring the Behaviour Across all Species

Comparative Psychology: Exploring the Behaviour Across all Species

All species animals

Comparative psychology is the scientific study of mental processes and behaviour of animals like dogs, cats, rats, pigs and other such animals, unlike humans. The father of comparative psychology is C Lloyd Morgan due to the fact that he provided with the guidelines for psychological interpretations of animal behaviour. Researchers actively conduct experiments and tests on non-human animals to understand humans and their behavior, operating on the belief that the fundamental laws of behavior are somewhat consistent across various species.

The study of animal behaviour initially begins with the theories and researches of Charles darwin and Georges romanes. Today, along with psychologists, many others, including biologists, anthropologists, genetecists and ecologists make their contributions in studying the animal behaviour and making comparative studies. Studying and conducting experiments on various non-human species enables us to generalize the knowledge gained and facts acquired to humans as well.

Also Read: The psychology of animal lovers

Why non human subjects are used for the experiments related to comparative psychology?

Comparative psychology deals with biology of behaviour rather than neural mechanisms. Psychologists compare the behaviours of different species to understand evolution, genetics and adaptiveness of behaviour.

Researchers generally prefer to conduct experiments in comparative psychology on animals rather than humans due to ethical reasons and safety concerns. Before launching new drugs and cosmetics for human consumption in the market, researchers first test them on animals to observe the effects of substances and products on them. If researchers do not find any harmful side effects, they may approve it for human trials. Those adopting nomothetic approaches like behaviorism and other biological approach generally favours the methods of comparative psychology.

Applications of Comparative Psychology

Pavlov’s classical conditioning studies on dogs and B.F Skinner’s operant conditioning studies on rats are few more famous examples of comparative psychology, where the studies and data collected by the psychologists through experimentation on animals provide valuable insights into human psychology as well. Hence, according to behaviourists, the laws of learning are same for all species, be it humans or non humans.

Also Read: Why are Human Beings called Social Animals?

Another example including the application of comparative psychology includes the study of the development of child. The two best known researchers, konrad Lorenz and Harry Harlow studied the effects of maternal deprivation and emotional connectivity between children and their mother. Lorenz did experiments on ducks and geese and found out that there is a critical period during infancy, which provides the scope of better connections, during this period the ducklings would get attached to their parents. However, if during this period of time, if the opportunity gets missed then there is little to no chance for ducklings to get attached to their parents later in life. Harlow, on the other hand, did his research and experiments with rhesus monkeys in the year 1958.

He found out that those rhesus moneys who got separated for their mother and another group of monkeys due to any reason, suffered social and emotional damages which can’t be reversed back to normal conditions. So it has been proven that human infants also have a critical infant period during the time of infancy and they too suffer from long term, irreversibly permanent social and emotional damages as they get trouble socializing and forming emotionally strong bonds, when gets separated for their attachment figures or caregivers.

Also Read: What Relation Does Humans And Animals Share?

Aims of comparative psychologists

Comparative psychologists put emphasis on understanding and learning animal’s behaviour like nesting, eating habits, playing, hoarding, personal grooming and movement behaviour. They also make notes on topics like reproduction related behaviours, learning, social behaviour, imprinting, consciousness, instincts, communicating behaviour and motivation.

Comparative psychologists often studies the role of evolution in different behaviour of different species, contribution of genetics to behaviour i.e. heredity factors. They learns about parenting by studying parental behaviours and their influences on the infant’s behaviour. Mating, adaptation and learning are some other topics of interests among comparative psychologists, studying role of environment on particular behaviour.

Methods used for comparisons in comparative psychology

There are various methods that can be used by comparative psychology to compare behaviour and cognition of different species.

1. Observational studies

    Observational studies involve making observations of behaviours and other processes in natural settings as it is, without exploiting or manipulating the subject’s behaviour or putting any conditions. Comparative psychologists watch the various different behaviours in a natural setting and records them. Recording the behaviour of species in natural setting helps the comparative psychologists finds and understands the correlation between species and their environment.

    Also Read: Some Psychological Experiments Based on Animals

    2. Controlled experiments

    Researchers most commonly use controlled experiments in comparative psychology. They conduct these experiments in controlled settings such as scientific labs, unlike natural ones. In this method, researchers keep all other variables constant or controlled, except for the one under investigation. The result or findings help the researchers know whether the variables under investigation have any effect on the result. Controlled experiments help the researchers study the cause and effect relationships among various different variables. They study the effects of other factors or variables on the animal’s behaviour and cognition.

    3. Cross species comparison

    Cross species comparison allows the researchers to study the contrasting and comparing behaviours, cognition and other characteristics among different species. It helps in understanding the role of evolution in changing behaviours. Also, this method helps in learning about the unique and common traits and behaviours of numerous species and makes the researchers understands the origin of behaviours. Cross species comparison is the fundamental method used in comparative psychology.

    Advantages of comparative psychology

    • Diversity with respect to subjects, providing more choices: In comparative psychology, the similarities and differences among various non human animals of different species are studied. Such studies with the availability of diverse species to experiment with, allows the researchers to find out generalized principles related to behaviour, cognition and other mental processes.
    • Better living conditions and improved welfare: The principles obtained from the comparative studies in comparative psychology helps establish and enhance the caring standards and thereby well being of both wild and captive animals.
    • Puts light on evolution: Comparative psychology helps understand evolution of behaviour and cognition with time among various species by analysing their behaviour and making comparative studies.

    Also Read: Disruptive Behavior Disorders: Causes, Impact and Treatment

    Disadvantages of comparative psychology

    1. Possibly visible differences:

    Not each and every trait or behaviour could be same among different species. So those traits and differences that are unique to certain species can’t be studied or provide any scope of comparison with different species. Those behaviours and characteristics remains slightly to completely unmatched during comparisons.

    2. Less similarities leading to less compatibility and limited applications:

    Since humans are different from animals biologically and possess different cognitive skills, it gets difficult to apply the research findings of animal behaviour in human beings, irrespective of excellent and effective animal research model.


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