Animals have their behaviors, patterns, and the like. They act in ways that are very interesting, and we as humans tend to study them a lot. But, does understanding the behavior of animals help us understand humans better? In a sense, yes, it can help us understand the world around us in different ways. Here, we will discuss animal psychology, and whether or not it can help us understand human nature better.
What Is Animal Psychology?
Animal psychology is a field of psychology that studies the behaviors, and even the cognitive processes of animals. This does involve epistemology, but it also can be a part of general psychology, along with evolutionary biology. The findings usually have great significance when it comes to an understanding not just animal behavior, but also human behavior as well.
The Goal Of Animal Psychology
The goal of animal psychology is to look at the differences, or even the lack thereof of different animals, even looking at it at different angles, such as how the disparities are established, and even what is considered "normal" behavior for an animal.
For example, animal psychology may look at how a dog responds to maybe certain situations, including loss, happiness, or even a situation that they can't control that makes them upset. Animal psychology helps us because it examines many of these traits, and from there, we can look at this and then question whether or not the trait will persist through different animals, or even through evolution. Animal psychology can even look to see if there are traits that are less viable, and even look at which ones will survive, and not survive.
So Is It Similar To Ethology?
The main distinction between these mostly focuses on the traits across a species of animals, based on the conditions of their natural habitats. They look more at the creations and sociology of a group of animals, but the psychologist looks more at the cognitive and mental actions that happen in society creations.
Cognitive Animal Psychology
One area of animal psychology that is a big part of understanding humans in a potential sense is cognitive animal psychology. This focuses on the cognitive actions of animals that aren't humans, and this field focuses on the ability of animals paying attention, creating and organizing principles, and even learning and thinking in an abstract means. Being able to study this actually can be done at a neurological level, and many times can help us understand the origins of animal behaviors.
This also starts to extend towards humans as well. For example, if you use cognitive animal psychology on monkeys, you can derive in some cases from these different cognitive behaviors humans have on an evolutionary scale. That's because, humans derive from monkeys biologically, which essentially means that there are some shared evolutionary traits in a psychological sense, which in turn can help us better understand the action and reactionary means that humans interact with others, and why this even matters.
There is also the debate that this field may have some significance in the realm of philosophical knowledge. This is a controversy, but it does bring up the question as to whether or not those that aren't human are considered conscious animals. If this non-human animal has a concept of themselves, the definition of what it means to be a human actually can become invalid. There is some research that points to the potential for a non-human species to engage in something called meta-cognition, which is essentially a sort of consciousness on their part.
The debate on this of whether or not non-humans have this trait is a very philosophical area that's a focal part of animal psychology. If there was more corroborating evidence to find this connection in a sense, that non-human animals do have a sort of level of consciousness, it, in turn, can blur the distinction between humans and animals.
So in a sense, yes, there is a chance that animal psychology can help us understand humans better, or at least blur the line between humans and non-humans in a cognitive sense. That's one of the main difference between man and animals, and if that distinction is continually blurred, it could help us truly understand the meaning of animals, and the lack of distinction that may be there on a human level.
How This Can Help Us Understand Ourselves
Animal psychology, in a sense, can help us better understand ourselves. We usually hear about an animal doing something extraordinary in life, such as the following:
You may see these comparisons on the side of animals doing amazing things, and that they're as smart, emotional, and even as altruistic as it can be. Usually, though, we never look at it on our end, and that's a huge part of it.
Philosophers along with scientists have tried to look at why we are unique, why we can do all of these things in life that other animals can't, but many forget that humans aren't actually the only ones that are unique, but rather every single species has some features that it shares, and some that make it difference. What the evolutionary approach means, is that we can look at the features and traits that are shared with others, and what it means to have these shared traits.
Species share traits for two reasons, and they are as follows:
This plays a part in understanding human nature. For example, people think that chimpanzees are similar to us, because they're close in relation, and we usually focus on why we are different. After all, humans and monkeys are quite different, and we have created our lineage, which makes us human.
The Problem With That
There is a problem with that, and that is the following:
That's a huge part of animal psychology. For example, being vocal and learning from this is a uniquely human trait, and only humans can use sounds that form letters and words to communicate. It's called "vocal learning." But, other animals do have similar types of learning, such as parrots, songbirds, dolphins, and seals, so that's not a unique trait.
Situations such as this, or examples such as this, allow us to look at evolution to understand how vocal learning, a trait we always associate with humans, applies to other animals, and how it applies to human evolution.
Songbirds and seals sing out songs to create mating calls to meet with other animals to copulate. In another example, let's take bees and pigs, which act "pessimistically" where they will act like they're about to expect the worst if a bad situation happens here. Humans as well do that, in a case where they've got a low mood. It's not clear however as to what the animals experience, but the finding of this gives us an insight as to why we may respond to negative experiences in the same way that we do. Increasing this caution after an experience goes bad may have been an evolutionary adaption that we picked up to help us understand ourselves better.
So yes, these shared characteristics, the psychology of the animals, actually helps us understand ourselves. We speculate a lot that we are unique, but we have some similar characteristics to other animals. But, it also forces us to look at ourselves more deeply: for example, what characteristics do we truly have that are different from other animals. What makes us well, human? That's what animal psychology does, and it's more than just understanding how a dog responds to a bad situation, or even how bees and pigs act pessimistically, it's about the relation of both of these, and how we as humans can relate to each of these.
If you've ever been curious about animal psychology, or have been fascinated with the idea of learning to understand ourselves better by examining the relationship that we share with ourselves, and with animals, you can do this now! You can talk to a therapist, helping you to understand better what exactly makes you unique, and learning to harness those unique traits, while also working on the similar characteristics that you have as well, that you share with others. It also gives you an insight as to why animals may act the way that you do, and the similarities that these possess in their way.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does an animal psychologist do?
An animal psychologist uses their unique skill set to study and diagnose animal behavior. They may specialize in zoology or study the difference between animal behavior in captivity and in the wild. An animal psychologist can help us understand why animals behave the way they do and provide insights about what we can learn from animal behavior.
Is animal psychology a major?
Yes! If you want to learn more about how animals think, you can pursue a degree in Animal Psychology. This course of study may sometimes be listed as Animal Behavior or Animal Behavioral Studies, so keep an eye out for these names when you’re browsing degree programs. You can pursue a degree in Animal Behavior at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels, although this degree program may not be offered by all universities.
Where do animal psychologists work?
An animal psychologist can use their degree in a wide variety of careers, so their daily responsibilities can vary greatly depending on their career choice. But generally speaking, an animal psychologist can work with animal welfare organizations or use their skills to create healthy and safe environments for animals in zoos, laboratories, and reservation sites. They might also work in an academic context as a teacher or researcher. Many animal psychologists also work with animal shelters or as private consultants on pet behavior.
Why do we study animals in psychology?
Researchers are attracted to the study of animal behavior for a variety of reasons. Some animal behaviorists are interested in learning more about animal feeding behavior while others are attracted to the study of animal cognition, animal care, and how animals interact. The broad and fascinating field of animal psychology can help us learn more about how animals think and why they behave in the ways that they do. Some animal psychologists study animal behavior because they are deeply interested in animal rights. And many researchers also believe that studying animal behavior can help us develop a better understanding of human psychology.
What are animal behaviors?
Put simply, animal behavior is the way that animals interact with one another and their environments. Animal behavior results from an animal’s biology and environment. The study of animal behavior is also very similar to ethology, which is the study of animals in their natural habitats. As is the case with people, animals experience a wide variety of behaviors that can vary depending on the individual. However, certain behaviors are innate and universal to a certain species; for example, dogs have a certain range of behaviors that are unique to dogs and would not be seen in cats or birds.
How are animals used in psychology?
Sadly, psychology has a long and sordid history of using animals in experimental studies that have been painful and cruel. But fortunately, the improvements of modern psychology have eliminated these painful studies and instead used animals as subjects in cruelty-free studies that provide a great deal of valuable psychological insight. Some famous examples of studies involving animals include Skinner’s rats and Pavlov’s dogs. Involving animals in psychological experiments is beneficial because animals and humans share a great deal of evolutionary ancestry with animals such as rats, mice, and monkeys. By involving these animals in psychological studies, we can learn more about how the mind works and develop new theories and treatments that will help people.
What is extrapolation in psychology?
The American Psychological Association defines extrapolation as “the process of estimating or predicting unknown score values on the basis of the known scores obtained from a given sample. For example, a researcher might estimate how well students will do on an achievement test on the basis of their current performance, or estimate how well a similar group of students might perform on the same achievement test.”
Who are the fathers of psychology?
Although many researchers have made significant advancements that contributed to the development of modern psychology, there are a few key individuals that we regard as the fathers of psychology. Two 19th-century researchers, Wilhelm Wundt and William James, are generally credited as being the original fathers of psychology. Wundt was a German scientist and he was the first person to be identified as a psychologist. He was also the first person to create a laboratory for psychological research.
How do we study animal behavior?
There are three basic methods for studying animal behavior: these methods include observational, experimental, and comparative methods of study. Observational study involves simply observing animal subjects without altering their environment in any way. Experimental methods are what we typically see in the context of laboratory experiments or other famous studies in which researchers manipulate an animal’s behavior to study the results. And comparative methodology involves comparing an animal’s current behavior and environment to that of its ancestors in order to learn more about a species’ history of evolution and behavior.
What are the 4 types of behavior?
Psychologists currently recognize four main types of human behavior. These are the types of behavior that are influenced by our: personalities, interests, attitudes, and emotions. Even when we’re not consciously aware of it, our behavior is heavily influenced by our relationships with each of these four key factors. Psychologists believe that it’s important to research and understand the impact that these four factors have on our behavior.
How do we behave with animals?
Understanding how humans behave with animals can provide psychologists with insights about a person’s behavior, values, morality, and mental state. For example, most people respond positively to animals. Unless you had a traumatic experience with a dog or cat in early childhood, most people are naturally drawn to animals and feel a strong desire to protect and comfort them. Many people enjoy owning pets for this reason. And according to the 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), sixty-seven percent of U.S. households, (about 85 million families) own a pet. Studies show that owning a pet has a number of positive benefits for your physical and mental health. And animal assisted therapy can be a very helpful form of therapy for people with anxiety, depression, and autism spectrum disorders!