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Comparative psychology refers to the scientific study of the behavior and mental processes of non-human animals, especially as these relate to the phylogenetic history, adaptive significance, and development of behavior. Research in this area addresses many different issues, uses many different methods and explores the behavior of many different species from insects to primates.
Comparative psychology is sometimes assumed to emphasize cross-species comparisons, including those between humans and animals. However, some researchers feel that direct comparisons should not be the sole focus of comparative psychology and that intense focus on a single
Using a comparative approach to behavior allows one to evaluate the target behavior from four different, complementary perspectives, developed by Niko Tinbergen. First, one may ask how pervasive the behavior is across species (i.e. how common is the behavior between animal species?). Second, one may ask how the behavior contributes to the lifetime reproductive success of the individuals demonstrating the behavior (i.e. does the behavior result in animals producing more offspring than animals not displaying the behavior)? Theories addressing the ultimate causes of behavior are based on the answers to these two questions.
Third, what mechanisms are involved in the behavior (i.e. what physiological, behavioral, and environmental components are necessary and sufficient for the generation of the behavior)? Fourth, a researcher may ask about the development of the behavior within an individual (i.e. what maturational, learning, social experiences must an individual undergo in order to demonstrate a behavior)? Theories addressing the proximate causes of behavior are based on answers to these two questions. For more details see
The 9th century scholar
Near the end of the 19th century, several scientists existed whose work was also very influential.
Throughout the long history of comparative psychology, repeated attempts have been made to enforce a more disciplined approach, in which similar studies are carried out on animals of different species, and the results interpreted in terms of their different phylogenetic or ecological backgrounds. Behavioral ecology in the 1970s gave a more solid base of knowledge against which a true comparative psychology could develop. However, the broader use of the term "comparative psychology" is enshrined in the names of learned societies and academic journals, not to mention in the minds of psychologists of other specialisms, so the label of the field is never likely to disappear completely.
A persistent question with which comparative psychologists have been faced is the relative intelligence of different species of animal. Indeed, some early attempts at a genuinely comparative psychology involved evaluating how well animals of different species could learn different tasks. These attempts floundered; in retrospect it can be seen that they were not sufficiently sophisticated, either in their analysis of the demands of different tasks, or in their choice of species to compare. However, the definition of "intelligence" in comparative psychology is deeply affected by anthropomorphism, and focuses on simple tasks, complex problems, reversal learning, learning sets, and delayed alternation are plagued with practical and theoretical problems. In the literature, "intelligence" is defined as whatever is closest to human performance and neglects behaviors that humans are usually incapable of (e.g.