When comparing human and animal behavior and reactions, anyone can begin to see that some animals, some mammals in particular, demonstrate responses that are similar to those of humans. The similarities between human and animal behavioral responses arises from the closeness of their respective genetic codes (Nauert). The similarities extend beyond the genetic code; artists, philosophers, and scientists have noted for centuries the similarities in behavior, appearance, and physiology (Rothstein). The considerable physiological and psychological similarity between animals and humans has enabled scientists to perform substantial research using animal subjects instead of relying on the much more limited availability and willingness of humans.

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Results from studies performed on animals whose reactions mirror those of humans enable scientists to confirm or discount hypotheses like what is effective in treating a certain physical (or even psychological) condition (Nauert). A related area of similitude between humans and animals is that of emotional response. For example, in times of danger, both animals and humans are more likely to exhibit increased anxiety-based behaviors and frustration (“Animals and Humans Experience the Same Emotions”). These are just a few of the many areas in which human and animal behavior has been demonstrated as comparable.

Beyond literary comparisons and imagery, philosophers like Aristotle as well as scientists like Leonardo Da Vinci have been drawn to the similarities between animals’ behavior with that of humans’. In a book possibly misattributed to Aristotle, “Physiognomics,” the unknown author argues that “appearance is the same as essence.” In other words, whatever expression an animal appears to have is necessarily linked to its behavior. This has enabled humans to perceive threats more easily. Humans, alternatively, are much more capable of distorting their appearance to minimize others’ perception of their true expressions. Even so, artists like Da Vinci also noted that human character is similarly evident in the facial structure and expression. (Rothstein).

The similarities in human and animal physiological and behavioral response has been recognized and harnessed for use in a variety of scientific fields. Taking measures to obtain a high degree of similarity between the animal’s response and a human’s response is essential to experiments’ generalizability to human populations. An example of the similarity between animal and human behavioral response is observed in a study where scientists identified the alteration of a gene that contributes to anxious behavior in mice. Since humans with the same alteration in that gene also display anxious behavior, scientists can begin to test strategies and hypothetical solutions in mice to see if any alleviate the anxiety. Once scientists identify one (or more) solutions, they can begin to adapt the treatment for human populations. If successful, such experimentation and later adaption could expand treatment options for psychological disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other anxiety disorders (Nauert).

Though animals cannot use language to tell humans how they are feeling, scientists have long recognized that, like humans, animals’ actions can belie their emotions without necessitating the use of lingual skills. In the area of emotional response, both humans and animals demonstrate a marked increase in behaviors relating to anxiety when facing an averse stimuli. Even actions that one might consider a harmless habit, like nail biting or hair twisting, can increase in duration and severity to the point that the previously inconsequential self-grooming habits become painful or destructive. Aside from this, humans and animals often respond to others of their species in similar ways. Observations of many types of animals, and primates in particular, have revealed that animals whom spend a lot of time in close proximity tend to behave friendlier due to the development of close bonds with those members of the group. Alternatively, if a newcomer approaches the bonded group, the group often responds with aggression—aggression that is safely assumed to arise from the distrust of outsiders. Humans may not always respond the exact same way, but there are definitely enough parallels between human and animal reaction and emotional response to be able to safely compare the two (“Animals and Humans Experience the Same Emotions”).

Another specific example of an arena in which animal and human is emotional and physical responses to threatening stimuli. In average populations of either animals or humans, there tend to be some that have heightened response levels and decreased response levels. This variance is attributable to small differences among members of the same species. In humans and primates that have heightened responses to threats, researchers have using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRIs) to determine the areas of the brain that show irregular activity when faced with a threat. Expanding empirical knowledge like this enables scientists and researchers to begin to create hypotheses and experiments in effort to accumulate knowledge that can be applied to alleviate undesirable levels of anxiety, for example (Nauert).

All in all, these are just a few of the ways in which human behavior mimics animal behavior. The utility of the similarities between humans and animals enables scientists from many fields to consider the initial substitution of animals with similar reactions for humans when conducting preliminary trials. Of course, the similitude does not guarantee a perfect match from which all generalizations are proven to be true. However, the basal responses to stimuli, like those responses that derive from fear or anxiety, are often particularly comparable. Furthermore, actions and behaviors that tend to promote (or arise from) the production of specific neurotransmitters in either humans or animals tend to understandably mirror each other (“Animals and Humans Experience the Same Emotions;” Nauert).

  • “Animals and Humans Experience the Same Emotions.” Phys Org. Liverpool John Moores University, 6 Sept. 2005. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.
  • Nauert, R. “Animal Behavior Similar to Human Response.” Psych Central News. 15 Jan. 2010. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.
  • Rothstein, E. “In a World Where Humans Can Be Beastly, Beasts Can Show Humanity.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 15 July 2007. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.