Comparative Psychology
March 25, 2012, 1:28 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Comparative Psychology is the branch of psychologywhich deals with the scientific study the similarities and differences between the mental processes and behaviour of humans and other animals.  It places emphasis on cross-species comparisons, including human-to-animal comparisons. This method evaluates the similarities and differences across species to better understand the developmental and evolutionary relationships between them.

Since Darwin’s work emphasised continuity in evolution from animals to people in their mental abilities and physical characteristics, psychologists have worked to understand the basic principles and processes that underlie the behaviour of all species, human and nonhuman.  Although much research in psychology uses people as subjects, research with animal subjects continues to be essentail for answering some fundamental questions. Psychologists do research to learn more about behaviour and how knowledge of behaviour develops.  As knowledge is accumulated, identification of characteristics that are unique to different species has yielded information that contributes to understanding and advancing the welfare of animals and people.

Animal research has been the major contributor to our knowledge of;

  • Basic learning processes and motivational systems, such as hunger, thirst and reproduction.
  • Sensory processes of vision, taste hearing and pain reception.
  • Animal cognition, providing a comparative and ecological perspective on issues of the mind, intelligence and of hoe sensory functions and levels of cognition can depend on early experience.
  • Modes of adaption to change, including evolution, development and all types of learning.
  • Connections between stress disease and has suggested psychological interventions for coping with stress more effectively.
  •  Identification and refinement of the basic learning principles that have led to the development of effective methods for promoting learning and self reliance in a wide variety of populations.
  • Contribution to treatment of difficult clinical problems, such as controlling self injuries behaviour in autistic children, and adults.
  • Understanding the range of behaviour effects of psychoactive drugs and environmental toxicants.
  • Understanding of drug abuse and physical dependence.  Also to understanding the nature and extent of genetic vulnerability to drug dependence.

Recent research on the brain of processes of chemical neurotransmission, combined with behavioural research in animals has provided understanding of the function of the central nervous system, aiding understanding of;

  • The process of recovery after neural damage.
  • Biological correlates of fear, anxiety.
  • Subjective and dependence producing effects of psychotropic drugs.
  • Mechanisms that control eating and other motivational processes.
  • The biology of learning and memory.Top of Form

Comparative psychology through the use of animals in research has provided great insight into human behaviour.  But despite all the advances made I find the following studies extremely disturbing.

Warning:  the following content refers to studies involving animals which some may find upsetting.  Please do not read on if you this will upset you.

Monkey Drug Trials (1969)

In this experiment monkeys were taught how to self inject a number of horrendous drugs into their bodies. Monkeys were injected with the drugs (to include cocaine, morphine, alcohol and amphetamines), so that they became addicted to their effects. They were then taught how to inject the drugs themselves, and left with an abundance of the drug. The monkeys were so affected with the drugs, some broke their arms trying desperately to escape their torment. Some of the monkeys using cocaine even ripped their own fingers off, most likely as a result from hallucinations. Monkeys who were injecting both morphine and cocaine all died within 2 weeks.

Harlow’s Monkey Experiments.  The Well of Despair (1957 to mid-1960′s).


 Harlow is infamous for being insensitive towards animals. His studies caused disturbance to many monkeys. One of his experiments concerning social isolation, saw tiny baby rhesus monkeys, just bonded with their mothers, separated so they had no friends or family for social support. They were put in something Harlow called the “Pit of Despair” a in a stainless steel vertical chamber device, for up to an entire year. The pits were tiny and completely pitch black.  The monkeys left the pits severely disturbed and depressed.  Many were psychotic, and did not recover.  Harlow wrote that they showed “autistic self clutching and repetitive rocking”.  Dr. Harlow concluded that even a happy, normal childhood was no defence against depression, while science writer Deborah Blum called these, “common sense results.  It’s quite obvious that someone, human or not, will develop incorrectly without the social support from their family – particularly the mother”.  Another of his experiments forced baby monkeys to choose between a wire or cloth “mother”.

It is not just Psychology that conducts studies involving animals, cosmetic companies, biomedical research and many other science tests are conducted on animals. Since 1980, ethical guidelines have been developed for animals and fortunately, the use of animal studies is psychology is declining.  Even though they are still conducted, the importance of the research has to seriously outweigh the cost of the animal’s life.

We have learnt many important things with unethical animal studies, so sometimes the research is vitally important. For example it might be a rat’s life which saves millions of human’s lives from cancer. The cost of one rats life to save millions of humans would seem acceptable.

Although I can appreciate the advances made through animal testing it is a practice that does not sit well and weighs heavily with me.





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