This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 08 table of contents.

Chapter 8: Animal Behavior and Cognition

Part One: Early Comparative Psychology

Part Two: Classic Ethology

Part Three: Social Ethology

Part Four: Animal Cognition

Overview of Chapter 8: Animal Behavior and Cognition

Psychology is not just about human beings. A quick review of research described in the preceding chapters would show a surprising amount involves non-human animals. This is true of most of the neuroscience experiments in Chapter 2 (Human Nervous System), most of the experiments on mechanisms of sleep and effects of drugs in Chapter 3 (States of Consciousness), most of the research on sensory systems in Chapter 4 (Senses and Perception), most of the research on Conditioning in Chapter 5, and most of the research on the biology of memory in Chapter 6. The great Russian scientist Pavlov even had a bronze statue of a dog erected in front of his laboratory building, expressing gratitude to the animals that had enabled his research.

Animals should be included in psychology, if psychology is the science of behavior and mental processes. Animals behave, and they perform sophisticated information processing. Of the cognitive abilities discussed in Chapter 7 (Cognition) only symbolic language is lacking in most non-human animals. All the other basic capabilities-visual scene analysis, motor behavior, and problem solving-are found in non-humans as well as humans. Research on chimpanzees-who share over 95% of our DNA sequences-shows that they engage in many complex mental and emotional processes resembling those of humans. Animals are also part of the history of American psychology. Psychologists have been studying and testing them for well over 100 years, and such famous psychologists as Watson, Thorndike, and Skinner worked primarily with animals.

Historically, the study of animal behavior is interesting because there are two distinct threads-the American approach called comparative psychology and the European approach called ethology-that came together in the middle of the 20th Century. First they were antagonistic, then they formed a fruitful synthesis, to mutual benefit. Meanwhile, the technological advances of recent decades (such as brain scanning and microminiaturization of electronics) have greatly increased the sophistication of research on animal cognition. Those advances, along with progress in understanding genetics, has allowed modern psychologists to place human intelligence in a more accurate context, highlighting our relationship to what came before as well as pinpointing exceptional and unique human talents.

How this chapter is organized

We start with traditional comparative psychology. This part builds upon the conditioning concepts of Chapter 5. We introduce concepts of genetic influences on behavior, including the sociobiology controversy. This leads to the European discipline of ethology in its classic post-World War II version, before it blended with American perspectives on animal behavior. The names Tinbergen and Lorenz figure prominently in this section.

Next we look at more modern work on social ethology, with a special emphasis on displays used for communication between members of the same species and also between members of different species. In the final section of the chapter we examine the issue of animal intelligence, including the advanced abilities of bonobos (pygmy chimpanzees), the most human-like of the chimpanzee species. That leads naturally to a consideration of evolutionary psychology, an increasingly important perspective in the early 21st Century.

Related topics in other chapters

Hull theory, mentioned briefly here, gets closer attention in Chapter 9 (Motivation). Conditioning techniques mentioned briefly in this chapter are discussed in more detail in Chapter 5 (Conditioning). Animal research appears throughout the book, from mice in neuroscience experiments in Chapter 2 to immortalized hamster cells of Chapter 10 (Development).


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