Has animal behavior study led to direct understanding of human behavior?
November 10, 2019 10:24 PM   Subscribe

What examples of studying the behaviors of animals led to breakthroughs in understanding the behavior of humans in a direct or correlative way? As in, has a Jane Goodall of some species study (like meerkats) been like "Eureka! Meerkat behavior for how they don't want to take out their trash is exactly like teen males!" Or is there some discipline in behavioral studies that is dedicated to finding these common links?
posted by rileyray3000 to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Robert Sapolsky, primatologist and neuroscientist has made a career of studying animals - especially baboons - to learn more about humanity and stress in particular.

He has written a number of books, most relevant for this question would be Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers.
posted by smoke at 12:58 AM on November 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

if you're not just talking about noninvasive observation of animals in their natural habitat, which you don't seem to be since you mention behavioral studies, then very very much of the study of animal behavior in cognitive psychology and related fields is used for correlation in human behavior. The iconic Pavlov's dog study became a staple of the idea of classical conditioning in how human beings learn.
posted by nantucket at 3:51 AM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you like crying, check our Harlow’s Monkeys.

It involves baby monkeys choosing between cuddles and food.
posted by bilabial at 4:33 AM on November 11, 2019

Comparative psychology is the discipline you're looking for.
posted by massa intermedia at 6:52 AM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Relational Frame Theory extends Skinner's work on verbal behavior by drawing some distinctions between what humans and non-humans can do. It's complicated, but RFT research suggests that we respond relationally to stimuli in arbitrarily defined ways that non-humans are not able to do. What lies in that gap accounts for new ways of conceptualizing behaviors related to psychopathology. This understanding of language and cognition has led to the creation of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and new advances in evolutionary science.
posted by soonertbone at 1:40 PM on November 11, 2019

I would say that behavioral ecology does this! (Human behavioral ecology is an offshoot that applies the same concepts from other species.)
posted by nuannarpoq at 9:13 AM on November 12, 2019

What examples of studying the behaviors of animals led to breakthroughs in understanding the behavior of humans in a direct or correlative way?

Desmond Morris's The Naked Ape is fun. But some scholars and critics have pointed out it makes some deep false assertions, especially when it comes to gender stuff.

Some of that false stuff still echos in out pop-sci understanding of ourselves, so you may want to read a couple thorough debunkings of the book.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:49 PM on November 12, 2019

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