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What Does a Comparative Psychologist Do?

By Tara Barnett
Updated May 17, 2024
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Comparative psychology is a branch of psychology concerned with comparing animal behavior to human behavior. In general, it focuses on animal psychology and the implications that science may have on our understanding of human psychology. The job of a comparative psychologist can be highly variable depending on his or her specialty, but many psychologists of this type work in research or teaching. Unusual jobs requiring a degree in comparative psychology might include working with animals at a zoo or working as a consultant on a television show about animals.

The first thing to keep in mind when considering what a comparative psychologist does is the degree of education he or she possesses. A person with a bachelor's degree in comparative psychology, for example, may work as an assistant in a lab or may perform lower level work that is informed by his or her degree. Only with an advanced degree can an individual teach at a university, and most positions in comparative psychology require a doctorate degree.

Most of the time, what a comparative psychologist does is research and teaching in the field of comparative psychology. This may include writing articles and applying for grants, along with all the other component parts of research. Sometimes travel is a component of research for a comparative psychologist, but many researchers work purely in labs with animals in captivity. When comparative psychologists do research in the wild, observation often takes a long time and may require a sabbatical from teaching.

Teaching in comparative psychology typically takes place at the college level, and may constitute the majority of the psychologist's job. Specific job duties of a professional in this field may vary depending on the university. Many comparative psychologists who work at universities conduct research with the assistance of university grants and student assistants. In some cases, a comparative psychologist may also teach general psychology courses at a university, particularly in lecture courses that are taught by the entire psychology department.

In addition to teaching and research, a comparative psychologist may also give lectures or perform other unique work. If the researcher writes a book, for example, he or she may need to go out and promote that book. In some cases, a comparative psychologist might work with a facility that houses animals or works with animals in order to improve the lifespan and contentment of those creatures. Depending on who employs the comparative psychologist, his or her job duties may be quite different.

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Discussion Comments

By bear78 — On Sep 25, 2013

My friend is a comparative psychologist and she's one of several psychologist that work at our state zoo. As far as I understand, her job is mostly about keeping the animals happy.

It's not easy to keep so many different kind of animals with different natural habitats in the same place. It's very difficult for the animals and it's difficult for their trainers too. My friend's main job is solving behavioral issues of animals by making changes to their environment and how they're treated. So she basically figures out how to make them and keep them healthy and happy.

By SteamLouis — On Sep 25, 2013

@ZipLine-- If you're interested in animal behavior and how animal behavior may be related to human behavior, you might be a good candidate for comparative psychology.

Of course, this career requires professionalism, so you cannot be emotional about animals being in captivity. But believe me, animals are never harmed in studies involving them, they're actually treated extremely well. So there is nothing unethical about comparative psychology.

I think that we can learn a lot about our own evolution through the study of animals. This is why I'm studying to be a comparative psychologist.

By ZipLine — On Sep 24, 2013

I think it would be great to be a comparative psychologist. I love animals and I'm interested in psychology so this field sounds perfect for me. The only difficulty might be seeing animals in captivity.

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