Comparative psychology is the comparison of the behavior and mental processes of a wide variety of animal and insect species with those of humans. This comparison allows researcher to discover trans-species principles of behavior and mental processes.
Using animal test subjects has advantages over using humans. Animal test subjects are easier to acquire and to control under experimental conditions than humans, and certain experiments can be performed on animals that can’t legally be performed on humans.
The use of animal subjects has shone light on human psychology in many areas, such as motivation, the nature of learning, the development of behavior, the effects of drugs and the localization of brain function. Animal use has led to many important applications in ecology, medicine and animal training, and has increased our understanding of evolutionary processes and relationships.
The comparative study of animals has also lent a better understanding of how the animals of today compared with those from previous ages. Comparative psychology has also contributed to the advancement of other sciences that study animals. And by studying the behavior of humans and animals, with a special eye on similarities and differences, comparative psychology has also shed light on evolutionary and developmental processes.
Types of Degrees
Finding classes and programs in comparative psychology can be challenging. There are only a handful of schools that offer a bachelor program that combines animal behavior and psychology into a single major. However, quite a few schools allow students to take a double major of biology and either psychology or experimental psychology.
Another option is to major in psychology or experimental psychology and minor in animal science, animal behavior or a similar subject. A Bachelor of Science degree is recommended because it includes more lab classes than a Bachelor of Arts.
Examples of pertinent classes at the undergraduate level include:
- Behavioral ecology
- Animal behavior
- Comparative animal cognition
- Organic evolution
- Social insects
- Primate behavior and ecology
- Primate cognition
- Evolution of acquired behavior
- Evolutionary psychology
- Experimental psychology
- Behavioral psychology
- Human heredity and development
- Human psychophysiology
A master’s degree program consists largely of research, but may also include courses like the following:
- Animal behavior
- Psychological processes
- Associative learning
- Comparative cognition
- Categorization and concept formation
- Communication systems
- Neural mechanisms of decision-making
- Evolution and behavior
- Conservation biology
- Human interactions with animals
- Research methods in animal behavior
Animal and human research projects at the master’s level can include a wide variety of topics, like:
- Human and non-human cognition
- Mate choice
- Concept formation
- Behavioral endocrinology
- Human sexual behavior
- Human and animal perception
- Theories of mind
A master’s degree is only adequate for research assistants or similar entry-level jobs. Full-fledged researched need to get a doctorate degree, preferably a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) because it is more geared toward research than a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). A Doctor of Education (EdD) is mainly intended for teachers. During a PhD program you might be required to complete about 45 to 60 hours of coursework in addition to research.
Most comparative psychologists work as researchers, either in private, governmental or university research centers. Many who work in university labs also teach, whether in a psychology, zoology or biology department. Some advance to become supervisors or consultants for private companies or governmental agencies. A few others work for zoos, museums, aquariums or conservation groups.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics website has stated that the estimated 2019 median annual wage for “psychologists, other,” which includes comparative psychologists, was $98,230, while the mean hourly wage was listed at $47.23.