12 Pages

Comparative Analyses of Learning

At the heart of most human cultures lie stories and anecdotes comparing the mental abilities of different animals, especially the relative intelli­ gence of human and nonhuman animals. A fre­ quent point of these stories is to impress the lis­ tener that nonhuman animals are as clever as, and possibly wiser than, most humans. A sec­ ond point is that nonhuman animals can equal or surpass humans in silly, greedy, unpleasant, and simple-minded behavior. Finally, in yet other stories, animals closely emulate average humans, so much so that they can be treated as informative and often humorous models. Al­ though Western culture has its own versions of such comparisons, the latter half of the 19th century marked an important watershed in why and how scientists compare learning in differ­ ent animals.