chapter  8
16 Pages

From similarity to uniqueness: Method and theory in comparative psychology

WithINGAR BRINCK

Comparative psychology is a strongly interdisciplinary field that shares many of its experimental methods and observational techniques with ethology and developmental psychology. The great variety of theories that comparative psychology evokes to explain behaviour generates a wide array of exciting and potentially fruitful accounts, but it is also problematic. It increases the risk of error in the forms of inconsistent background assumptions, conceptual misunderstandings, untestable hypotheses, and incoherent explanations, which in spite of being perhaps minor per se will impede scientific progress in the long run. Moreover, like psychology at large, comparative psychology tends to emphasize empirical investigations to the disadvantage of the analysis and development of theories and concepts. Consequently, disagreements stemming from areas other than methodology and experimental design do not receive sufficient attention. Furthermore, while evidence about biological evolution, i.e., the behaviour and cognition of ancient animals, is notoriously hard to find, the methodology for comparing the capacities of different species is under continuous development. This forces comparative psychology to rely on the adequacy of its theoretical and conceptual framework to a greater extent than is normally the case in the empirical sciences.