Comparative Psychology

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Contribution to Book

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Publication Title

Academic Advising: A Handbook for Advisors and Students




Comparative psychology is a multidisciplinary approach to the study of cognition and behavior that attempts to integrate the evolutionary focus of biology and the individual-behavior focus of psychology (Daniel & Papini, 2008). Although they may specialize in a variety of different areas (e.g., experimental analysis of behavior, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, etc.) comparative psychologists consider the evolutionary history and adaptive function of the cognitive processes and behaviors under study.

Although similar in many respects to the fields of animal learning, behavioral ecology, and ethology, comparative psychology has emerged as an integrative approach (or perspective) to the study of non-human animals (Kamil, 1988). Specifically, comparative psychology draws theoretical and methodological inspiration from the aforementioned fields to investigate mechanisms by which non-human animals learn, store, remember, and respond to information from the environment (Shettleworth, 2010).

A guiding principle of the comparative approach is to focus on similarities and differences in psychological processes across species in an effort to illuminate general and specialized mechanisms (Bitterman, 1960, 1965, 1970). Such an approach is often accomplished through experimental research in the field or laboratory on topics including, but not limited to, attention, communication, foraging, mating, memory, perception, predator-prey interaction, and tool use (for reviews see Papini, 2002; Shettleworth, 2010; Wasserman & Zentall, 2006)