Comparative psychology analyzes similarities and differences between behaviors and the mental development of animals and humans. Learn about job prospects, salaries, related degree programs and topics of study.
Comparative psychology studies explore the mental development of species as compared to the mental development of other animals, including humans. As a graduate of a comparative psychology program, you may find work in academia as an instructor or researcher. Since a lot of psychological research is conducted using animals, such as rats or mice, a background in comparative psychology can be very useful. Primary topics in the study of comparative psychology can include evolution, heredity, adaptive behaviors, learning and mating or parenting behaviors.
Comparative psychology is often introduced at the undergraduate level as part of a comprehensive bachelor's program in general psychology. At the master's and doctorate levels, you often can choose to focus on comparative psychology. Specialized programs in the field might include courses in research design and methodology, developmental psychology, biopsychology and statistics.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the best job prospects in this field will be reserved for those holding a doctoral degree (www.bls.gov). From 2012-2022, employment in the field of psychology is expected to grow 12%. Psychologists not working in the fields of counseling, clinical and school psychology or industrial-organizational psychology earned a mean annual wage of $86,380 in May 2012. The bottom tenth percentile earned $42,240 or less, and the top 90th percentile earned $116,240 or more.
You could begin with an undergraduate degree program in general psychology. This is a broad curriculum that would allow you to explore various topics within this field and give you the opportunity to compare different theories through advanced courses. For instance, required coursework could include social psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, individual differences, physiological psychology, personality theory and comparative psychology. Additional courses in neuroscience, cognitive science and behavioral science may be required as well.
A Master of Arts (M.A.) degree program in psychology may allow you to focus on biopsychology and comparative psychology. These advanced degree programs may cover subjects such as drug abuse, color vision, animal communication, developmental neuroscience, animal learning and the behaviors of mammals, birds and fish. You may also be able to focus specifically on animal behavior through additional coursework. Courses may include experimental psychology, animal behavior in captivity versus the wild, basic psychological processes, comparative psychology and independent research geared towards completing a thesis.
You could also pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in the cognitive and behavioral sciences. This type of program would not only allow you to focus on comparative psychology; it would also allow you to explore the fields of applied cognitive psychology, behavioral neuroscience and computational psychology in greater detail. Courses may include experimental design, experimental statistics, the history of ideas in psychology, ethics and problems in cognitive psychology. In a Ph.D. program, you'll also be required to conduct your own independent research and complete a written dissertation.