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Ethology (Animal Behaviour) Introduction, History

What is Ethology?

  • Ethology, a captivating branch of zoology, delves into the intricate world of animal behavior. Focusing on the scientific study of behavior in natural conditions, ethology views behavior as an evolutionary adaptation. Unlike behaviorism, which concentrates on objective and measured responses to stimuli or trained behaviors within a laboratory setting, ethology explores the inherent adaptivity of behaviors. Throughout history, numerous naturalists have dedicated themselves to unraveling the mysteries of animal behavior, with the scientific foundations of ethology rooted in the groundbreaking work of Charles Darwin and esteemed ornithologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Charles O. Whitman, Oskar Heinroth, and Wallace Craig.
  • The genesis of modern ethology can be traced back to the remarkable contributions of visionary scientists such as Dutch biologist Nikolaas Tinbergen, and Austrian biologists Konrad Lorenz and Karl von Frisch. In recognition of their pioneering work, these three remarkable individuals were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973. Ethology, as a discipline, thrives on the amalgamation of laboratory and field science, establishing strong ties with other domains such as neuroanatomy, ecology, and evolutionary biology. Rather than focusing on a specific animal group, ethologists are primarily interested in understanding behavioral processes, often exploring a particular type of behavior—such as aggression—across unrelated species.
  • In the contemporary landscape, ethology emerges as a rapidly growing field. With the advent of the 21st century, researchers have embarked on a journey of rediscovery, re-examining and revising long-held assumptions regarding animal communication, emotions, culture, learning, and sexuality. As a result, new frontiers have emerged, including the fascinating realm of neuroethology. This interdisciplinary field intertwines neuroscience and ethology, enabling scientists to explore the neural mechanisms underlying animal behavior, uncovering the intricate connections between the brain and behavior.
  • The significance of understanding ethology extends beyond the realm of scientific inquiry. It plays a pivotal role in animal training, offering invaluable insights for trainers. By considering the natural behaviors of different species or breeds, trainers can select individuals best suited to perform specific tasks. Moreover, knowledge of ethology empowers trainers to encourage the expression of naturally occurring behaviors and discourage undesirable ones, paving the way for effective training methodologies.
  • In conclusion, ethology stands as a captivating and rapidly evolving field that unravels the enigma of animal behavior. Built upon the foundation laid by esteemed scientists and propelled by modern advancements, ethology opens new gateways of understanding, revealing the intricate tapestry of behaviors woven throughout the animal kingdom. From the exploration of behavioral processes to the emergence of neuroethology, this captivating discipline continues to captivate and inspire those who seek to decipher the secrets of the natural world.

Definition of Ethology

Ethology is the scientific study of animal behavior in natural conditions, focusing on understanding behavior as an evolutionary adaptation.

History of Ethology

The history of ethology is a fascinating journey that has shaped our understanding of animal behavior and its evolutionary roots. Charles Darwin, renowned for his groundbreaking work on evolution, can be considered a pioneer in the field of ethology. His book, “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals,” published in 1872, influenced many subsequent ethologists by delving into the emotional expressions of animals. Darwin’s interest in behavior inspired his protégé George Romanes to explore animal learning and intelligence, although his anthropomorphic approach did not gain scientific support.

Early ethologists, including Eugène Marais, Charles O. Whitman, Oskar Heinroth, Wallace Craig, and Julian Huxley, focused on instinctive behaviors observed in all members of a species under specific circumstances. They constructed ethograms, which provided objective descriptions of the main types of behavior and their frequencies of occurrence. These ethograms formed a foundation for subsequent researchers to validate and supplement, establishing a cumulative database of behavior.

The field of ethology experienced significant growth due to the influential work of Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen before World War II. Following the war, Tinbergen moved to the University of Oxford, strengthening ethology in the United Kingdom alongside notable figures such as William Thorpe, Robert Hinde, and Patrick Bateson at the Sub-department of Animal Behaviour at the University of Cambridge. Ethology also flourished in North America during this period.

In recognition of their groundbreaking contributions, Lorenz, Tinbergen, and Karl von Frisch were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973 for their advancements in the field of ethology. This accolade further solidified ethology as a well-recognized scientific discipline.

With time, ethology expanded its scope and incorporated social aspects of behavior. John H. Crook, an English ethologist, distinguished comparative ethology from social ethology in 1972. He emphasized the need to study the behavior of social groups and the underlying social structures within them. The publication of E. O. Wilson’s book, “Sociobiology: The New Synthesis,” in 1975 propelled the field further into the exploration of social behavior. Concepts from Darwinism, including those associated with Wilson, Robert Trivers, and W. D. Hamilton, enriched the understanding of behavior within an evolutionary framework. The emergence of behavioral ecology also contributed to the transformation of ethology.

In recent years, ethology has witnessed a convergence with comparative psychology, resulting in a seamless spectrum of approaches to the scientific study of behavior. This spectrum spans from animal cognition to traditional comparative psychology, ethology, sociobiology, and behavioral ecology. The interdisciplinary nature of the field has allowed for a more comprehensive exploration of animal behavior.

Moreover, ethology has evolved to encompass novel sub-disciplines. In 2008, the term “Peace Ethology” was introduced to address human conflict, conflict resolution, reconciliation, war, peacemaking, and peacekeeping behavior. This expansion demonstrates the dynamic nature of ethology and its relevance to various aspects of human behavior.

In conclusion, the history of ethology showcases the remarkable progress made in understanding animal behavior from an evolutionary perspective. From the pioneering work of Charles Darwin to the influential contributions of ethologists such as Lorenz, Tinbergen, and Wilson, the field has evolved and expanded, integrating knowledge from various disciplines. Today, ethology stands as a multidimensional field, shedding light on the complex and captivating world of animal behavior.

Brief profiles of Ethologist

Karl von Frisch

Born20 November 1886
Vienna, Austria-Hungary (now Austria)
Died12 June 1982 (aged 95)
Munich, Bavaria, West Germany (now Germany)
EducationUniversity of Vienna (PhD, 1910)
University of Munich
Known forBehaviour and perception of bees
Spouse(s)Margarete, née Mohr
ParentsAnton von Frisch (father)Marie Exner (mother)
AwardsForMemRS (1954), Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1973), Balzan Prize for Biology (1962)Kalinga Prize (1958), Magellanic Premium (1956), Lieben Prize (1921)
Scientific career
InstitutionsRostock University, Breslau University, University of Munich, University of Graz
Notable studentsIngeborg Beling, Maximilian Renner
InfluencesHans Leo Przibram, Richard von Hertwig
  • He was born in Vienna but spent his life in Germany.
  • His initial days of living was in farm land which allowed him to study on different types of animals and insects.
  • He carried out experiments using colour cards on insects.
  • His observations on honey bees enabled him to discover fascinating things on their attraction toward coloured things.
  • His most significant discovery was about the bee dance i.e. bees have 2 types of dancing behaviours, they were wagging and circular dance.
  • He also studied behaviour of bees during total solar eclipse.
Karl von Frisch
Karl von Frisch

Karl Ritter von Frisch (1886-1982) was a renowned German-Austrian ethologist who made significant contributions to the field of animal behavior. Alongside Nikolaas Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973 for his groundbreaking research.

Frisch’s most notable work revolved around studying the sensory perceptions of honey bees. He was among the first scientists to decipher the meaning of the waggle dance, a form of communication used by bees to relay information about the location of food sources. His findings, initially published in his book “Aus dem Leben der Bienen” (translated as “The Dancing Bees”), were met with skepticism at the time but were later recognized as an accurate analysis.

Born in Vienna, Austria, Frisch came from a family of university professors. After initially pursuing medicine, he shifted his focus to the natural sciences. He obtained his doctorate in 1910 and began working as an assistant in the zoology department at the University of Munich. Over the years, he held various positions at different universities, including Rostock University and Breslau University.

During his research on honey bees, Frisch discovered that bees have a remarkable ability to distinguish different blossoming plants by their scent. He also demonstrated that bees possess color vision, with a sensitivity extending into the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. Furthermore, he revealed that bees use various cues, such as the sun’s position, the polarization pattern of the blue sky, and the earth’s magnetic field, to navigate and orient themselves.

Frisch’s investigations into bee behavior and communication revealed fascinating insights. He identified two forms of dances performed by bees: the round dance, which indicates the presence of a nearby food source, and the waggle dance, which conveys information about more distant food sources. Through these dances, bees communicate not only the direction and distance to the food but also information about the type of food and its specific characteristics.

In addition to his work on honey bees, Frisch studied pheromones emitted by queen bees and their daughters, which play a crucial role in maintaining the social order within a beehive. His research expanded our understanding of insect behavior and communication.

Despite his remarkable contributions, Frisch faced adversity during the Nazi regime, which criticized him for employing Jewish assistants and practicing what they considered “Jewish science.” However, his retirement was later revoked due to his significant research on nosema infections in bees.

Frisch’s legacy extends beyond his scientific achievements. He received numerous honors and awards, including the Nobel Prize, the Pour le Mérite for Arts and Sciences, and the Balzan Prize for Biology. He was also a member of prestigious scientific societies and academies. The Karl Ritter von Frisch Medal, awarded by the German Zoological Society, recognizes scientists who have made exceptional contributions to zoology.

Karl von Frisch’s publications, which include “Aus dem Leben der Bienen” and “Tanzsprache und Orientierung der Bienen” (translated as “The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees”), remain influential in the field of animal behavior. His work continues to inspire researchers in understanding the complex behaviors of animals, particularly honey bees.


  1. “Der Farben- und Formensinn der Bienen” (1914-1915): Investigated the color and shape perception of bees.
  2. “Über den Geruchssinn der Bienen und seine blütenbiologische Bedeutung” (1919): Explored the sense of smell in bees and its significance in flower biology.
  3. “Über die ‘Sprache’ der Bienen” (1923): Conducted a psychological study on the communication system of bees.
  4. “Aus dem Leben der Bienen” (1927): Published his theory on the waggle dance and the behavior of honey bees.
  5. “Du und das Leben – Eine moderne Biologie für Jedermann” (1936): Wrote a biology book for the general public.
  6. “Die Tänze der Bienen” (1946): Studied and documented the dances of bees.
  7. “Die Polarisation des Himmelslichtes als orientierender Faktor bei den Tänzen der Bienen” (1949): Explored the polarization of skylight as a guiding factor in bee dances.
  8. “Die Sonne als Kompass im Leben der Bienen” (1950): Investigated the role of the sun as a compass in the lives of bees.
  9. “Tanzsprache und Orientierung der Bienen” (1965): Explored the dance language and orientation of bees.

Honors and Decorations:

  1. Lieben Prize (1921)
  2. Pour le Mérite for Arts and Sciences (1952)
  3. Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1952)
  4. Elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 1954
  5. Honorary ring of Vienna (1956)
  6. Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science (1958)
  7. Bavarian Order of Merit (1959)
  8. Foreign Member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (1959)
  9. Austrian Medal for Science and Art (1960)
  10. Balzan Prize for Biology (1962)
  11. Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1973)
  12. Grand Merit Cross with Star and Sash of the Federal Republic of Germany (1974)
  13. Bavarian Maximilian Order for Science and Art (1981)
  14. Karl Ritter von Frisch Medal of the German Zoological Society (DZG)

2. Ivan Pavlov

Born26 September 1849
Ryazan, Russian Empire
Died27 February 1936 (aged 86)
Leningrad, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Alma materSaint Petersburg University
Known forFounder of modern behavior therapy, Classical conditioning
SpouseSeraphima Vasilievna Karchevskaya​​(m.1881)​
AwardsNobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1904)ForMemRS (1907) Copley Medal (1915)
Scientific career
FieldsPhysiology, psychology
InstitutionsImperial Military Medical Academy
Doctoral studentsPyotr Anokhin, Boris Babkin, Leon Orbeli
InfluencesIvan Sechenov, Carl Ludwig, Carl Vogt
Jacob Moleschott
InfluencedJohn B. Watson, Joseph Wolpe
Ivan Pavlov
Ivan Pavlov

Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849-1936) was a renowned Russian and Soviet experimental neurologist, psychologist, and physiologist. He is best known for his groundbreaking research on classical conditioning, which he discovered through his experiments with dogs. Pavlov’s work had a significant impact on the fields of psychology, physiology, and neuroscience.

Born on September 26, 1849, in Ryazan, Russian Empire, Pavlov was the first of eleven children. His father, Peter Dmitrievich Pavlov, was a village Russian Orthodox priest, while his mother, Varvara Ivanovna Uspenskaya, was a dedicated homemaker. Pavlov displayed intellectual curiosity and a passion for research from a young age.

Inspired by the progressive ideas propagated by Russian literary critic Dmitry Pisarev and physiologist Ivan Sechenov, Pavlov decided to pursue a scientific career instead of following in his father’s footsteps. In 1870, he enrolled in the physics and mathematics department at the University of Saint Petersburg to study natural science.

Pavlov’s academic journey included attending the Ryazan church school and later the local theological seminary. However, his true passion lay in the study of natural sciences, and he left the seminary without graduating to pursue higher education. At the University of Saint Petersburg, he excelled in his studies, and his research on the physiology of the nerves of the pancreas earned him a prestigious university award.

After completing his studies, Pavlov continued his scientific pursuits by joining the Imperial Academy of Medical Surgery, where he worked as an assistant to his former teacher, Elias von Cyon. He later became a laboratory assistant to Konstantin Nikolaevich Ustimovich at the physiological department of the Veterinary Institute. During this time, Pavlov focused on investigating the circulatory system for his medical dissertation.

In 1878, Pavlov began working at the famous Botkin Clinic under the supervision of Professor S. P. Botkin. He graduated from the Medical Military Academy in 1879 and received a gold medal award for his research work. Pavlov’s collaboration with the Botkin Clinic yielded significant insights into the regulation of reflexes in the activity of circulatory organs.

Pavlov’s scientific contributions gained international recognition, and he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine multiple times before finally winning the award in 1904. The Nobel Committee acknowledged his work on the physiology of digestion, which transformed and expanded knowledge in the field.

Throughout his career, Pavlov conducted extensive experiments on dogs to understand the process of classical conditioning. He investigated the gastric function of dogs and observed their salivary response to food stimuli. These experiments led him to formulate the concept of conditioned reflexes and their role in learning and behavior.

Pavlov’s laboratory, which housed a kennel for the experimental dogs, became a center for pioneering research on the physiological processes of animals. His studies on digestion and reflex actions significantly advanced the understanding of these subjects.

Apart from his scientific achievements, Pavlov was also known for his critical views on Soviet Communism. Despite being highly regarded by the Soviet government and receiving financial support, he openly expressed his disapproval and contempt for the regime. He wrote letters to Soviet officials criticizing mass persecutions and expressing his shame in being Russian.

Pavlov passed away on February 27, 1936, at the age of 86. He left behind a remarkable legacy, with his work continuing to influence various fields of study, including psychology, physiology, and education. The principles of classical conditioning that he established have had a profound impact on behavior therapies and educational practices.

Ivan Pavlov conducted numerous research studies throughout his career, focusing primarily on the physiology of digestion, reflex actions, and the process of classical conditioning. Some of his notable research works include:

  1. The Physiology of Digestion (1897): In this seminal work, Pavlov investigated the process of gastric secretion and established the concept of conditioned reflexes. He observed the salivary response of dogs to food stimuli and explored the role of the nervous system in digestion.
  2. Conditional Reflexes (1927): Pavlov expanded on his earlier findings and presented a comprehensive theory of conditioned reflexes. He described the formation, extinction, and generalization of conditioned responses, highlighting the role of stimuli in shaping behavior.
  3. Lectures on Conditioned Reflexes (1928): This series of lectures provided a detailed account of Pavlov’s research on conditioned reflexes and their implications for psychology, physiology, and education. It further solidified his position as a leading figure in the field.
  4. Experimental Psychology and Psychopathology (1951): Published posthumously, this work compiled Pavlov’s lectures on experimental psychology and psychopathology. It delved into the study of higher nervous activity and its relation to mental disorders.

As for honors and decorations, Ivan Pavlov received several prestigious accolades throughout his lifetime, including:

  1. Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1904): Pavlov was awarded the Nobel Prize for his research on the physiology of digestion. His discoveries regarding conditioned reflexes significantly contributed to the understanding of behavioral processes.
  2. Hero of Socialist Labor (1951): Posthumously, Pavlov was awarded the title of Hero of Socialist Labor, a high honor in the Soviet Union, recognizing his exceptional contributions to science and medicine.
  3. Order of Lenin: Pavlov was honored with the Order of Lenin, the highest civilian decoration in the Soviet Union, for his outstanding achievements in scientific research.
  4. Honorary Doctorates: He received numerous honorary doctorates from universities around the world, including the University of Cambridge, Harvard University, and the University of Paris, in recognition of his groundbreaking work in physiology and psychology.

These are just a few notable examples of the honors and decorations bestowed upon Ivan Pavlov for his significant contributions to science and medicine.

Konrad Lorenz

BornKonrad Zacharias Lorenz
7 November 1903
Vienna, Austria-Hungary
Died27 February 1989 (aged 85)
Vienna, Austria
Alma materColumbia University
University of Vienna (MD, PhD)
AwardsForMemRS (1964), Kalinga Prize (1969)Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1973)
Scientific career
  • He is founder father of Ethology
  • He was lecturer in Animal psychology at the university of Vienna, Austria
  • He got this initial inspiration from his teacher Oskar Hemroth
  • Lorenz in his farmhouse observed shrews, frogs, monkeys, dogs and mainly greylag geese on which he carried out extensive studies and developed a theory of imprinting or childhood learning during critical period.
  • His popular works were King Solomon’s ring, Man meets dog etc
Konrad Lorenz

Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989) was an Austrian zoologist, ethologist, and ornithologist. He is widely regarded as one of the founders of modern ethology, the study of animal behavior. Together with Nikolaas Tinbergen, he developed the idea of an innate releasing mechanism to explain instinctive behaviors. They conducted experiments with “supernormal stimuli” and studied imprinting, which is the instinctive bond formed between a newborn animal and its caregiver.

Lorenz’s most important contribution to ethology was his idea that behavior patterns can be studied as anatomical organs, which laid the foundation for ethological research. He believed in the importance of describing and recognizing various patterns of movement in comparative behavioral research. He has been called ‘The father of ethology’ by Niko Tinbergen.

Lorenz’s work was interrupted by World War II, during which he served as a medic in the German Army. He was captured by the Soviet Red Army and spent four years as a prisoner of war. After the war, he regretted his membership in the Nazi Party.

Lorenz wrote numerous books, including “King Solomon’s Ring,” “On Aggression,” and “Man Meets Dog,” which became popular readings. He continued to research and publish even after retiring from the Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Physiology in 1973.

Lorenz received several honors and awards throughout his career. He shared the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Nikolaas Tinbergen and Karl von Frisch for their discoveries in individual and social behavior patterns. He was elected as a member of prestigious scientific societies and received the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art, the Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science, and the Bavarian Maximilian Order for Science and Art, among others.

Konrad Lorenz’s contributions to ethology and his popular works played a significant role in bringing the study of animal behavior to the attention of the general public. His research, writings, and honors have cemented his legacy as a key figure in the field of ethology and animal behavior studies.

Research Works:

  1. Imprinting: Konrad Lorenz conducted groundbreaking research on imprinting, a process in which young animals form an instinctive bond with the first moving object they see after hatching. His observations and descriptions of imprinting, particularly in greylag geese, became foundational in understanding this phenomenon.
  2. Fixed Action Patterns and Supernormal Stimuli: Alongside Nikolaas Tinbergen, Lorenz developed the concept of innate releasing mechanisms and fixed action patterns. They experimented with “supernormal stimuli” that could trigger these patterns more strongly than natural objects. This research shed light on the instinctive behaviors of animals.
  3. Psychohydraulic Model of Behavior: Lorenz developed a “psychohydraulic” model of behavior, inspired by the ideas of William McDougall. This model focused on the motivation of behavior and incorporated group selectionist ideas, which were influential during the 1960s.
  4. Comparative Behavioral Research: Lorenz emphasized the importance of descriptive sciences and the need to accurately describe and recognize different patterns of movement in animals. He advocated for perception as the source of scientific knowledge.

Honors and Decorations:

  1. Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1973): Konrad Lorenz shared the Nobel Prize with Nikolaas Tinbergen and Karl von Frisch for their discoveries in individual and social behavior patterns. This recognition highlighted his significant contributions to the field of ethology.
  2. Austrian Decoration for Science and Art (1964): Lorenz received this prestigious decoration in recognition of his contributions to science and art in Austria.
  3. Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science (1969): He was awarded the Kalinga Prize for his efforts in popularizing science and making ethology accessible to the general public.
  4. Gold Medal of the Humboldt Society (1972): Lorenz received the Gold Medal for his outstanding contributions to the field of ethology.
  5. Prix mondial Cino Del Duca (1969): He became the first recipient of this international prize, which recognized his achievements in the field of ethology.
  6. Honorary Doctorate from the University of Salzburg (1983): Lorenz was granted an honorary doctorate by the University of Salzburg for his distinguished contributions to the field of ethology.
  7. Grand Cross with Star and Sash of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (1984): He was honored with this prestigious decoration for his significant scientific achievements.
  8. Bavarian Maximilian Order for Science and Art (1984): Lorenz received this award in recognition of his exceptional contributions to the fields of science and art.
  9. Membership in Scientific Societies: Lorenz was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1957), a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (1964), a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences (1966), and the American Philosophical Society (1974). These memberships reflect his status as a respected scientist and scholar.

These are some of the notable research works, honors, and decorations associated with Konrad Lorenz.

Niko Tinbergen

BornNikolaas Tinbergen
15 April 1907
The Hague, Netherlands
Died21 December 1988 (aged 81)
Oxford, England
Alma materLeiden University
Known forOne of the founders of ethology, Hawk/goose effect, Tinbergen’s four questions
SpouseElisabeth Rutten (1912–1988)
AwardsFRS (1962), Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1973)
Scientific career
FieldsZoology, Ethology
InstitutionsUniversity of Oxford
Doctoral advisorHilbrand Boschma
Doctoral studentsJohn Michael Cullen, Marian Dawkins, Richard Dawkins, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Aubrey Manning, Desmond Morris, Anthony Sinclair
InfluencedPatrick Bateson, Robert Hinde, Frans de Waal
  • He was born in Holland but lived in England.
  • He studied variety of animals from butterflies to gigger wasps to three spined stickle back fish and gulls.
  • Few of his books are; Animal Behaviour, The study of Instincts (1954),
  • The animal in its world, Social Behaviour in Animals (1965).
  • His contribution on details of sign stimuli which are needed to elicit a specific instinctive behaviour is still appreciated.
Nikolaas Tinbergen
Nikolaas Tinbergen

Nikolaas “Niko” Tinbergen (1907-1988) was a renowned Dutch biologist and ornithologist. He is considered one of the pioneers of modern ethology, the study of animal behavior. Together with Konrad Lorenz and Karl von Frisch, Tinbergen was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973 for their groundbreaking discoveries concerning the organization and elicitation of individual and social behavior patterns in animals.

Tinbergen’s interest in nature emerged at a young age, and he went on to study biology at Leiden University. During World War II, he was held as a prisoner by the Nazis, an experience that caused some strain in his collaboration with Konrad Lorenz. However, they eventually reconciled and continued their influential work.

After the war, Tinbergen moved to England, where he taught at the University of Oxford and became a fellow at Merton College and later at Wolfson College. He mentored several notable biologists, including Richard Dawkins, Marian Dawkins, Desmond Morris, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, and Tony Sinclair.

One of Tinbergen’s significant contributions was his book “The Study of Instinct” (1951), which had a profound impact on the field of behavioral science. The book explored innate behavioral reactions in animals, focusing on their adaptiveness and evolutionary aspects. Tinbergen investigated the role of internal and external stimuli in controlling behavior, particularly spontaneous behaviors that occur in their complete form without the influence of learning.

Tinbergen developed a hierarchical model of behavior, inspired by Konrad Lorenz’s work. This model proposed that motivational impulses build up in specific nervous centers in the brain, held in check by blocks. An innate releasing mechanism removes these blocks, allowing the energy to flow to the next center in a cascade, ultimately leading to the expression of behavior. Tinbergen’s research on foraging honey bees demonstrated how different stimuli, such as visual and chemical cues, play crucial roles in the behavior of these insects.

In addition to his scientific achievements, Tinbergen received numerous awards and honors. Apart from the Nobel Prize, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1962 and became a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1950. He was also recognized with medals such as the Godman-Salvin Medal and the Swammerdam Medal, among others.

Tinbergen’s work emphasized asking four fundamental questions about animal behavior: causation (mechanism), development (ontogeny), function (adaptation), and evolution (phylogeny). These questions, known as Tinbergen’s four questions, are still regarded as essential in the study of ethology and have influenced the fields of sociobiology and transdisciplinarity in the human sciences.

Tinbergen also explored the concept of supernormal stimuli, which involved creating artificial objects that triggered stronger responses than the natural stimuli they imitated. His observations and experiments on supernormal stimuli provided valuable insights into instinctual behavior and the factors that elicit and influence such behaviors.

It is worth noting that Tinbergen’s involvement in recommending a “holding therapy” for autistic children, intended to establish eye contact through prolonged parental embraces, has been considered controversial and lacking scientific support. This therapy has been criticized, particularly by individuals with autism, as potentially abusive.

Niko Tinbergen’s contributions to the field of ethology and his influential studies on animal behavior have left a lasting impact on our understanding of the natural world and its intricacies. His work continues to inspire and guide research in the field of behavioral science.

Research Works:

  1. “The Study of Instinct” (1951): Tinbergen’s influential book on animal behavior, exploring innate behavioral reactions, their adaptiveness, and evolutionary aspects.

Honors and Decorations:

  1. Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1973): Awarded jointly with Konrad Lorenz and Karl von Frisch for their discoveries concerning the organization and elicitation of individual and social behavior patterns in animals.
  2. Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS): Elected in 1962.
  3. Member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (1950): Recognized for his contributions to science.
  4. Godman-Salvin Medal (1969): Awarded by the British Ornithologists’ Union for his outstanding contributions to ornithology.
  5. Swammerdam Medal (1973): Received from the Genootschap ter bevordering van Natuur-, Genees- en Heelkunde of the University of Amsterdam.
  6. Wilhelm Bölsche Medal: Awarded by the Kosmos-Gesellschaft der Naturfreunde for his significant contributions.
  7. Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1961): Elected in recognition of his scientific achievements.
  8. Member of the United States National Academy of Sciences (1974): Recognized for his contributions to the field of biology.
  9. Member of the American Philosophical Society (1975): Elected for his notable accomplishments in science.

These are some of the notable research works, honors, and decorations associated with Niko Tinbergen.

What is Proximate and ultimate behaviour?

Proximate and ultimate behavior are two complementary perspectives used in the study of animal behavior, particularly in the fields of ethology and evolutionary biology. They provide different levels of analysis and focus on different aspects of behavior.

Proximate Behavior

Proximate behavior refers to the immediate or underlying causes and mechanisms that control an individual’s behavior. It focuses on the internal factors, such as genetic, physiological, neural, and developmental processes, as well as external stimuli that trigger a specific behavior. Proximate explanations aim to understand how a behavior occurs at the individual level and often involve studying mechanisms within the lifetime of an organism.

Proximate questions typically address:

a. Causation (Mechanism): What are the specific stimuli or triggers that elicit a behavioral response? How does the behavior occur at the molecular, physiological, and neurological levels? What learning processes are involved in the development and expression of the behavior?

b. Development (Ontogeny): How does the behavior change over an individual’s lifetime? What role do genetic, environmental, and experiential factors play in the development of the behavior? What are the critical periods or sensitive periods for learning and expressing the behavior?

Ultimate Behavior

Ultimate behavior refers to the evolutionary or adaptive significance of a behavior. It focuses on understanding why a particular behavior has evolved and how it contributes to an organism’s reproductive success and survival. Ultimate explanations look beyond the individual and consider the behavior’s function in terms of natural selection and evolutionary processes.

Ultimate questions typically address:

a. Function (Adaptation): What is the adaptive significance or purpose of the behavior? How does it contribute to an organism’s chances of survival, reproduction, or fitness? Does the behavior provide any advantages in terms of finding food, avoiding predators, attracting mates, or competing for resources?

b. Evolution (Phylogeny): How does the behavior compare across different species? What are the evolutionary origins and history of the behavior? How has it been shaped by natural selection and influenced by genetic and environmental factors over generations?

It is important to note that proximate and ultimate explanations are not mutually exclusive but rather complementary. Both perspectives are necessary to gain a comprehensive understanding of animal behavior, with proximate explanations addressing the mechanisms and processes underlying behavior, while ultimate explanations focus on its adaptive significance and evolutionary history.

Objective of behaviour

The objective of behavior refers to the purpose or goal that a particular behavior serves in the context of an organism’s survival, reproduction, and overall fitness. It relates to the evolutionary function and adaptive significance of behaviors in terms of increasing an organism’s chances of survival and reproductive success.

The objectives of behavior can vary depending on the species, ecological niche, and environmental conditions. Some common objectives of behavior include:

  1. Survival: Many behaviors are aimed at enhancing an organism’s survival by helping it obtain food, avoid predators, find shelter, and navigate its environment. For example, defensive behaviors such as fleeing, hiding, or fighting can increase the chances of survival in the face of threats.
  2. Reproduction: Reproductive success is a fundamental objective of behavior. Behaviors associated with mating, courtship, and parental care are aimed at attracting mates, securing breeding opportunities, and ensuring the survival and well-being of offspring. These behaviors contribute to passing on an organism’s genes to future generations.
  3. Resource Acquisition: Behaviors related to foraging, hunting, and resource acquisition are crucial for obtaining essential resources such as food, water, and territory. Efficient resource acquisition behaviors improve an organism’s ability to meet its energy requirements and increase its overall fitness.
  4. Communication: Many behaviors serve as means of communication among individuals within a species. Communication behaviors can convey information about dominance, social status, reproductive readiness, danger, or cooperation. Effective communication facilitates social interactions, mate choice, and coordination within social groups.
  5. Social Organization: Behaviors related to social interactions, cooperation, and competition play a role in establishing and maintaining social structures within a species. These behaviors determine hierarchies, group dynamics, and division of labor, which can enhance the overall survival and reproductive success of individuals within a group.
  6. Adaptation to Environmental Conditions: Behaviors can also be adaptive responses to specific environmental conditions or challenges. For instance, migration, hibernation, or torpor are behaviors that help organisms cope with seasonal changes or adverse environmental conditions.

It is important to note that the objectives of behavior are shaped by natural selection and can vary across species and environments. Different behaviors serve different functions and contribute to the overall fitness and success of an organism within its ecological niche.

Behaviour as a basis of evolution

Behavior plays a critical role in the process of evolution. It serves as the basis for natural selection, which is the driving force behind the adaptation and diversification of species over time. Here’s how behavior influences evolution:

  1. Variation and Heritability: Behavior, like other traits, exhibits variation within a population. Individuals within a species may display different behavioral patterns or strategies in response to environmental challenges or opportunities. This variation in behavior is influenced by genetic and environmental factors and can be passed on to offspring through heredity.
  2. Fitness and Reproductive Success: Different behaviors can lead to differences in an organism’s fitness, which is its ability to survive and reproduce in a given environment. Behaviors that enhance an organism’s reproductive success, such as effective mate selection, courtship displays, or parental care, increase the likelihood of passing on their genes to the next generation.
  3. Natural Selection: Behaviors that confer a survival or reproductive advantage increase an organism’s chances of surviving and reproducing. These advantageous behaviors are more likely to be passed on to future generations through the process of natural selection. Over time, individuals with beneficial behaviors will become more prevalent in a population, while those with less advantageous behaviors may decline.
  4. Environmental Interactions: Behavior is closely intertwined with an organism’s interaction with its environment. The behavior of an organism can influence its ability to obtain resources, avoid predators, find mates, and adapt to changing conditions. Successful behavioral strategies that are adaptive in a specific environment are more likely to be favored by natural selection.
  5. Coevolution: Behavior can also drive coevolutionary interactions between species. For example, predator-prey relationships can lead to the development of defensive behaviors in prey species and counteradaptations in predators. These reciprocal adaptations between interacting species can result in ongoing evolutionary changes in behavior and morphology.
  6. Behavioral Plasticity: Behaviors can exhibit plasticity, meaning they can be modified or adjusted based on the environmental conditions or individual experiences. Behavioral plasticity allows organisms to respond to changes in their environment and adjust their behavior accordingly. This flexibility can contribute to their survival and reproductive success in dynamic or unpredictable environments.

Behaviour as a discipline of science

Behavior, as a discipline of science, is known as behavioral science or behavioral biology. It focuses on the systematic study of animal and human behavior, including its causes, mechanisms, functions, and effects. Behavioral science encompasses various sub-disciplines, such as psychology, ethology, sociobiology, behavioral ecology, and neuroethology. Here are some key aspects of behavior as a discipline of science:

  1. Objectives: The primary objective of studying behavior is to gain a deeper understanding of why organisms behave the way they do. It involves investigating the underlying mechanisms, proximate and ultimate causes, development, functions, and evolutionary significance of behaviors in different species.
  2. Interdisciplinary Nature: Behavior is a multidisciplinary field that draws on insights and methodologies from various scientific disciplines, including biology, psychology, neuroscience, ecology, genetics, anthropology, and more. It combines approaches from both the natural and social sciences to provide a comprehensive understanding of behavior.
  3. Observation and Experimentation: Behavioral scientists employ a range of research methods, including observational studies, field experiments, controlled laboratory experiments, and computational modeling. They collect data by carefully observing and documenting behavior in natural or controlled settings, manipulating variables to understand causal relationships, and using statistical analyses to interpret their findings.
  4. Proximate and Ultimate Explanations: The study of behavior involves investigating both proximate and ultimate explanations. Proximate explanations focus on the immediate causes of behavior, including genetic, physiological, neurological, and developmental factors. Ultimate explanations examine the evolutionary reasons for behavior, such as adaptive functions, reproductive success, and the impact on survival and fitness.
  5. Comparative Approach: A comparative approach is central to the study of behavior. By comparing behaviors across different species, researchers can identify commonalities, differences, and evolutionary patterns. Comparative studies help elucidate the underlying mechanisms and evolutionary pathways that shape behavior.
  6. Applications: The knowledge gained from studying behavior has practical applications in various fields, including conservation, animal welfare, human psychology, education, and healthcare. Understanding behavior can inform interventions, design effective treatments, improve decision-making processes, and promote well-being in both human and non-human populations.
  7. Ethical Considerations: Ethical considerations are essential when studying behavior, particularly when conducting research involving human subjects or animals. Ethical guidelines ensure the welfare, privacy, and informed consent of participants, as well as the responsible treatment of animals.


What is ethology?

Ethology is the scientific study of animal behavior, including its patterns, causes, development, and functions. It seeks to understand how animals interact with their environment, communicate, mate, raise offspring, and adapt to different ecological conditions.

What are the main goals of ethology?

The main goals of ethology include identifying the proximate and ultimate causes of behavior, understanding its evolutionary basis, and investigating the adaptive functions and ecological significance of different behavioral patterns.

How is ethology different from other branches of biology?

Ethology is a branch of biology that specifically focuses on animal behavior. It differs from other branches, such as physiology or anatomy, by placing a primary emphasis on understanding the behavior of organisms in their natural environments and the evolutionary processes that shape their behavior.

What are some key methods used in ethological research?

Ethologists employ various methods to study animal behavior, including direct observation in the field, controlled experiments in the lab or field, the use of technologies like GPS tracking or video recording, and comparative studies across different species or populations.

How do ethologists study instinctive behavior?

Ethologists study instinctive behavior by observing animals in their natural habitats and identifying behavioral patterns that are genetically programmed and independent of learning. They investigate the stimuli that trigger instinctive responses and the underlying neural and physiological mechanisms.

What is the significance of studying animal communication in ethology?

Studying animal communication is crucial in ethology as it helps understand how animals use signals, such as vocalizations, visual displays, or chemical cues, to communicate with conspecifics. It provides insights into social interactions, mate selection, territory defense, and other aspects of animal behavior.

How does ethology contribute to conservation biology?

Ethology plays a vital role in conservation biology by providing insights into the behavior and ecology of endangered species. Understanding their behavior helps develop effective conservation strategies, including habitat management, reintroduction programs, and mitigating human-wildlife conflicts.

What are the ethical considerations in ethological research?

Ethological research must adhere to ethical guidelines to ensure the welfare and well-being of the animals involved. This includes considerations for animal handling, minimizing stress, obtaining proper permissions, and ensuring the safety of researchers and subjects.

What are the applications of ethology in human psychology?

Ethological research on animal behavior can have implications for understanding human behavior and psychology. By studying evolutionary roots and commonalities, ethological insights can inform areas such as social behavior, cognition, emotion, and developmental psychology.

How does ethology contribute to our understanding of evolutionary processes?

Ethology provides valuable insights into the adaptive significance and evolutionary origins of behavior. By comparing behavior across different species and examining its functions in specific ecological contexts, ethologists can elucidate the evolutionary processes that shape behavior over time.

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