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Musings about the importance of Comparative Psychology: Reflections from undergraduate students

By Heather M. Hill


The sub-field of comparative psychology has ebbed and flowed since the establishment of the field of psychology. Today, comparative psychology is taught rarely as an elective, much less as a required course within psychology departments around the United States. Based on responses on a beginning of semester reflection assignment about the field of psychology, when first or second year undergraduate students are asked about their knowledge of psychology and the various fields within, most have never heard of comparative psychology. Those that have heard of comparative psychology from a high school course, the students rarely mention it freely. The purpose of this essay is to share the reflections of students who have completed an upper division elective comparative psychology course at a primarily undergraduate, Hispanic-serving institution. In this course, the students were asked to reflect on what they know about comparative psychology at the beginning of the course and to return to those early reflections at the end of the course. One major finding is that the majority of the students state that this course should be a required course or a capstone for psychology as it integrates all of their required coursework together into a common experience. This synthesis enabled the students to see the importance of comparative analysis and the role understanding animals plays in understanding humans. Comparative psychology should not simply be a historical facet of the field of psychology, but should continue to play a critical role in shaping the experiences of students of psychology. Whether it is simply to make students of psychology aware of the role animal research has in understanding almost all aspects of psychology (clinical, learning, health, development, personality, social, biopsychology, neuroscience, behavioral economics, cognition) or to highlight the need that investigating the same question in different subjects is valuable, comparative psychology has a vital role in our field today

Topics: comparative psychology, undergraduate, teaching, bias, transferrable skills
Publisher: eScholarship, University of California
Year: 2020
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