Psychology, Department of


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Published in Frontiers of Psychology 1 (2010), Article 203, pp. 1-3; doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00203 Copyright: © 2010 Stevens. This is an open-access article subject to an exclusive license agreement between the authors and the Frontiers Research Foundation, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original authors and source are credited. Online at


Comparative psychology is by nature an interdisciplinary science that lies at the crossroads of psychology and biology but also draws from other fields in the natural, social, and cognitive sciences. The study of the psychology of animals has been labeled animal cognition, comparative cognition, animal learning, animal psychology, and animal intelligence. Here, comparative psychology is used interchangeably with these terms, encompassing all fields that explore the psychological mechanisms underlying animal behavior, including human behavior.

The primary goal of comparative psychology is to understand the cognitive, emotional, and motivational processes of the animal mind. How do other animals perceive, learn about, and make decisions in their worlds? From our pets to exotic animals portrayed in nature documentaries, we are inherently curious about other animals. Comparative psychology both provides a window into their minds, as well as offers a unique perspective on the human mind. Which aspects of our psychology do animals share? Human uniqueness is constantly challenged as we learn more about the psychology of animal minds. Once distinctive human abilities – such as tool use, language, and mental time travel – appear, at least to a degree, in other species. Though other species exhibit elements of these abilities, the central question for comparing humans and animals remains, do humans and other animals share the same psychological mechanisms?