Situational similarity

Prior to the general acceptance of Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory in the late nineteenth century, animals were considered to be soulless machines with no thoughts or emotions. Humans, on the other hand, were assumed to be qualitatively different from other animals because of their abilities to speak, reason, and exercise free will. This assumption made it unreasonable to try to learn about the mind by studying animals.

After Darwin, however, people began to see that, even though each species is unique, the chain of life is continuous, and there are similarities as well as differences among species. As animal brains and human brains are made of the same kinds of cells and have similar structures and connections, it was reasoned, the mental processes of animals must be similar to the mental processes of humans. This new insight led to the introduction of animals as psychological research subjects around the year 1900. Since then, animal experimentation has taught much about the brain and the mind, especially in the fields of learning, memory, motivation, and sensation.

Psychologists who study animals can be roughly categorized into three groups. Biopsychologists, or physiological psychologists, study the genetic, neural, and hormonal controls of behavior, for example, eating behavior, sleep, sexual behavior, perception, emotion, memory, and the effects of drugs. Learning theorists study the learned and environmental controls of behavior, for example, stress, stimulus-response patterns, motivation, and the effects of reward and punishment. Ethologists and sociobiologists concentrate on animal behavior in nature, for example, predator-prey interac tions, mating and parenting, migration, communication, aggression, and territoriality.

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