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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Cost-Effective Laboratory Exercises to Teach Principles in the Comparative Analysis of Behavior


The principles of the comparative analysis of behavior are as relevant now as it was in the time of Charles Darwin, George Romanes, and C. Lloyd Morgan. This article presents class exercises using animal and human action figures to provide students with hands-on experience demonstrating the importance of such principles and issues as classification, identification of independent and dependent variables, systematic variation, differences between homologies and analogies, the value of making valid comparisons, the importance of ethics, and the role of environmental and subject variables in the interpretation of species differences. Students are presented with a prescribed sequence of action figures differing in, for example, gender, race, and species. Initially, a single figure is presented, and students asked to consider various questions. A second figure is added which they must compare to the first. A third figure is subsequently presented and so on until the end of the exercise. The figures we have used include men, women, children, rats, pigeons, elephants, and assorted invertebrates. Students report that the exercise is effective in helping them acquire skills in experimental design and issues related to conducting comparisons. They also report that the exercise is difficult because it tests their assumptions at each level of comparison.

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