The study of animal behavior is a cornerstone of experimental psychology, shedding light on how animals interact with each other and their environments, and why they behave the way they do. By studying animal behavior, humans can learn more about their own behavior—a field known as comparative psychology.
Animal behavior research is particularly relevant to the study of human behavior when it comes to the preservation of a species, or how an animal’s behavior helps it survive. The behavior of animals in stressful or aggressive situations can be studied to help find solutions for humans in similar circumstances, or to provide insight for dealing with depression, anxiety, or similar mental health disorders. Animal behavior research also contributes to the study of genetics by helping to resolve questions of nature vs. nurture, or which behaviors are controlled by genes and which are products of our environment.
Animal-assisted therapy, in which dogs, horses, and other domestic animals help facilitate different forms of therapy, can be helpful for individuals who are socially isolated, living with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, or suffering from a mood disorder or post-traumatic stress. Interacting with animals has been found to increase human levels of oxytocin, a hormone that enhances social bonding. Animal behaviorists are also interested in the ways animals themselves may benefit from relationships with humans.