4 Comparative Psychology in Historical Perspective

History of Psychology

  1. Donald A. Dewsbury PhD

Published Online: 26 SEP 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781118133880.hop201006

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

How to Cite

Dewsbury, D. A. 2012. Comparative Psychology in Historical Perspective. Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition. 1:4.

Author Information

  1. University of Florida, Department of Psychology, Gainesville, Florida, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 26 SEP 2012


Comparative psychology entails the search for general principles regarding the immediate control, development, adaptive function, and evolutionary histories of behavioral patterns. It has been a part of the discipline of psychology since its inception as a separate field of inquiry. I trace the history of comparative psychology from the earliest evidence of interest in animals to the present. Although comparative psychology as a subdiscipline can be traced through British origins, as exemplified by Charles Darwin and a group of other British animal behaviorists, it matured in North America during the 20th century. It became a visible part of American psychology prior to WWI but faded during and shortly after the war. Some important psychologists entered the field between the wars and provided the foundation for its development and expansion after WWII. Aided by federal funding, the field thrived after the war. The influences of reformulated European ethology, evolutionary theory, and the so-called cognitive revolution all created important changes in the field. Recent years have seen a return of increased international representation, greater influence of women, and increased collaborative research.


  • animal behavior;
  • zoological psychology;
  • ethology;
  • evolution