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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. Research described in preceding chapters shows how often non-human animals contribute to knowledge about psychology.

Most of the neuroscience experiments in Chapter 2 (Human Nervous System) were conducted on animals. The same is true of experiments on mechanisms of sleep and effects of drugs in Chapter 3 (States of Consciousness), research on sensory systems in Chapter 4 (Senses and Perception).

Animals (notably the Norway rat and the pigeon) were the most common research subjects in research on operant conditioning in Chapter 5. The great Russian scientist Pavlov had a "monument to the unknown dog" installed in St. Petersburg near the Institute of Experimental Medicine, expressing gratitude to the animals that enabled his research.

Most research on the biology of memory in Chapter 6 was conducted on animals. 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.

Chimpanzees share over 95% of our DNA sequence. Research shows they engage in many of the same complex mental and emotional processes as 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 was about comparing different species using standardized tasks.

The European approach called ethology was about analyzing natural behavior patterns in the wild. By the late 20th Century, comparative psychology and ethology had merged into one discipline.

Technological advances such as brain scanning and miniaturization of electronics has increased the sophistication of research on animal cognition. Psychologists are finding a world of complexity in how animals communicate and interact.

How this chapter is organized

We start with traditional comparative psychology, building on the conditioning concepts from 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 comparative psychology. 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 animals. In the final section of the chapter we examine the issue of animal intelligence.

We consider the advanced abilities of bonobos (pygmy chimpanzees), the most human-like of the chimpanzee species. That leads to a consideration of evolutionary psychology, an increasingly important perspective in the early 21st Century.

Related topics in other chapters

Hull's theory, mentioned briefly here, gets closer attention in Chapter 9 (Motivation). Conditioning techniques were discussed in more detail in Chapter 5 (Conditioning). Animal research appears throughout the book, from mice in neuroscience experiments in Chapter 2 to research on stress and addiction in Chapter 14 (Frontiers).

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