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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.<ref name="Dewsbury, D. 1978"/><ref>Papini, M.R. (2003). Comparative Psychology. In Handbook of Research Methods in Experimental Psychology. Ed. Stephen F. Davis. Blackwell. Malden, MA.</ref>

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 organism to understand its behavior is just as desirable; if not more so. Donald Dewsbury reviewed the works of several psychologists and their definitions and concluded that the object of comparative psychology is to establish principles of generality focusing on both proximate and ultimate causation.<ref name="Dewsbury, D. 1984">Dewsbury, D. (1984). Comparative Psychology in the Twentieth Century. Hutchinson Ross Publishing Company. Stroudsburg, PA.</ref>

Using a comparative approach to behavior allows one to evaluate the target behavior from four different, complementary perspectives, developed by Niko Tinbergen.<ref>{{#invoke:Citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=journal }}</ref> 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)? These two questions provide a theory for the ultimate cause of behavior.

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)? These latter two questions provide a theory for the proximate causes of behavior. For more details see Tinbergen's four questions.


Comparative psychology sections
Intro  History  Species studied  Animal cognition  Disorders of animal behavior  Effect of animals on humans  Topics of study  Notable comparative psychologists  Related fields  Notes  References  Further reading  External links  

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