This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 08 table of contents.

Early Comparative Psychology

Comparative psychology takes its name from the goal of comparing the behavior of different animal species. The field began shortly after the publication of Charles Darwin's books The Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1874) Darwin suggested that animal species changed over time, with later generations displaying the characteristics that helped earlier generations survive and reproduce. Arguing that the same process shaped human intelligence, Darwin thought it was logical to trace the development of intelligence in different species, leading up to the development of intelligence in humans. Here is how Darwin put it in his book The Descent of Man (1874).

What did Darwin write about mental faculties and their comparison between species?

It is...highly probable that with mankind the intellectual faculties have been mainly and gradually perfected through natural selection... Undoubtedly it would be interesting to trace the development of each separate faculty [intellectual skill] from the state in which it exists in lower animals to that which exists in man. (Darwin, 1874, pp. 128-129)


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