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Open Access Publications from the University of California

On Why There Are So Few Comparisons in Comparative Psychology

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The comparative study of behavior requires close attention to the ecologically unique details of the environmental challenges and adaptations (both behavioral and structural) of a systematically selected range of species. It offers an understanding of which aspects of behavior change and which remain constant across phylogenetic pathways and evolutionary challenges. The General Process View of Learning (also known as the principle of the transsituationality of reinforcement, and by several other names), however, militates against study of the details of behavioral adaptations, by insisting that particular behaviors may be regarded as arbitrary instances of universal associative principles. The history of behaviorism, and of contingency theory, in particular, is largely the history of the gradual emergence and dominance of this General Process View, and of the working out of its profoundly anticomparative implications. The increasingly wide repudiation of the General Process View is providing the basis for a renewal of comparative studies of behavior.

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