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Comparative psychology

Comparative psychology is the study of differences and similarities in the behaviour of animals of different species. Comparative psychologists may analyse a single activity as it occurs in many species. For example, they may examine the raising of young among birds, whales, tigers, and other animals. They also may study the complete behavioural pattern of two or more related species. For instance, they may compare the feeding, mating, and other activities of two rodents. 

Some of the principal behavioural patterns of animals that comparative psychologists study include communication, learning, migration, orientation, reproductive behaviour, and social behaviour. Communication is the sharing of information among animals. Learning concerns the gaining of knowledge or skill. Migration is the travel of large groups of animals. Orientation consists of the ways that animals position themselves in relation to light, heat, and other forces. Reproductive behaviour concerns the mating habits of animals and the ways they care for their young. Social behaviour includes such group activities as the flocking of birds or the hunting strategies of wolves. 

Comparative psychologists observe animals in their natural environment and in controlled conditions in laboratories and zoos. In both types of surroundings, researchers use methods that enable them to observe behaviour while interfering as little as possible with the creatures' activities. For example, psychologists may attach electronic devices to the animals. The devices send out signals pinpointing their location or relay information on the animal's blood pressure, temperature, and other body functions. In the laboratory, researchers may observe animal behaviour from behind one-way mirrors. In the wild, scientists may watch from inside camouflaged enclosures. 

Comparative psychologists may record animal behaviour on paper using code symbols for various types of behaviour. They also film and tape-record certain activities. In addition, they may arrange for an animal to record data itself. For example, many experimenters use a device called a Skinner box, where an animal must operate a switch or other mechanism to obtain a reward. The switch also activates a recording device. 

Comparative psychologists, like other scientists, employ various statistical methods in their work. They often use computers to analyse large amounts of information.





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