History of Ethology, Biology tutorial


Ethology (from Greek: ethos means character; and logia means the study of) is the scientific study of animal behavior, and a sub-topic of zoology. However numerous naturalists have studied features of animal behavior all through history, the modern stream of ethology is usually considered to have begun throughout the year 1930 by the work of Dutch biologist Nikolaas Tinbergen and Austrian biologists Konrad Lorenz and Karl von Frisch, joint winners of the year1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Ethology is a combination of laboratory and field science, by a strong relation to some other disciplines - example: ecology, neuroanatomy, evolution. Ethologists are usually interested in a behavioral method instead of in a specific animal group and often study one kind of behavior (example: aggression) in a number of dissimilar animals. The wish to comprehend animals has made ethology a fast growing topic, and since the turn of the 21st century, lots of prior understandings associated to diverse fields like animal communication, personal symbolic name use, animal culture, animal emotions, learning and even sexual conduct long thought to be well understood, have been altered, as encompass new fields like neuroethology.

Differences and similarities with comparative psychology:

Comparative psychology as well studies animal behavior, however, as opposed to ethology, is construed as a sub-topic of psychology instead of as one of biology. Historically, where comparative psychology researches animal behavior in the context of what is known concerning human psychology, ethology researches animal behavior in the context of what is known regarding animal anatomy, neurobiology, physiology and phylogenetic history. This difference is not representative of the present state of the field. Moreover, early comparative psychologists concentrated on the study of learning and tended to research behavior in artificial conditions, while early Ethologists concentrated on behavior in natural conditions, tending to explain it as instinctive. The two approaches are complementary instead of competitive; however they do outcome in dissimilar perspectives and at times, in conflicts of opinion regarding matters of substance. Moreover, for most of the 20th century, comparative psychology developed most strongly in North America, whereas ethology was stronger in the Europe. A practical difference is that early comparative psychologists concentrated on gaining the extensive knowledge of the behavior of very few species, whereas Ethologists were more fascinated in gaining the knowledge of behavior in a broad range of species in order to be capable to make principled comparisons across the taxonomic groups.

Scala naturae and Lamarck's theories:

Till 19th century, the most general theory among scientists was still the concept of scala naturae, introduced by the Aristotle: according to this theory, living beings were categorized on an ideal pyramid in which the simplest animals were represented through the lower levels, and, by complexity increasing progressively to the top, which was represented via human beings. There was as well a group of biologists, who disproved the Aristotelian theory for a more anthropocentric one, according to which all the living beings were made up by Buddha to serve mankind and would behave accordingly. A well-radicated belief in the common sense of the time in the Western world was that animal species were eternal and immutable, made up by a specific reason, as this seemed the only possible description for the incredible variety of the living beings and their amazing adaptation to their habitat. The first biologist explaining a complex theory of evolution was Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829). His concept and theory substantially comprised two statements:

a) Animal organs and behavior can change according to the manner they are being employed. Such traits or characteristics are capable of being transmitted from one generation to the subsequent (well-known is the illustration of the giraffe whose neck becomes longer while trying to attain the upper leaves of a tree).

b) The second statement is that the entire living organism, human beings comprised, tends to reach a higher level of perfection. At the time of his trip for the Galapagos Islands, Charles Darwin was well aware of Lamarck's theories and was persuaded by them.

Theory of evolution by natural selection and the beginnings of ethology:

As ethology is considered as a topic of biology, Ethologists have been concerned specifically with the evolution of behavior and the understanding of behavior in terms of the theory of natural selection. In one sense, the primary modern Ethologists was Charles Darwin, whose book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, affected many ethologists. He pursued his interest in behavior through encouraging his protégé George Romanes, who investigated animal intelligence and learning using an anthropomorphic process, anecdotal cognitivism which didn't get scientific support.

The other early on ethologists, like Oskar Heinroth and Julian Huxley, rather concentrated on behaviors which can be termed as instinctive, or natural, in that they take place in all members of a species beneath specified conditions. Their starting for studying the behavior of a new species was to construct an ethogram (an explanation of the main kinds of natural behaviour by their frequencies of occurrence).


The instinct can be defined as a largely inheritable and unalterable propensity of an organism to make a complex and particular response to environmental stimuli devoid of involving reason. For ethologists, instinct signifies a sequence of predictable behaviors for fixed action patterns. These schemes are just acted when an accurate stimulating signal is present. When such signals act as communication among members of the similar species, they are termed as releasers.

Notable illustrations of releasers are, in numerous bird species, the beak movements by the newborns that stimulate the mother's regurgitating procedure to feed her offspring.


Learning takes place in numerous ways which is one of the most elementary being habituation. This procedure comprises in ignoring persistent or useless stimuli. The illustration of learning by habituation is the one noticed in squirrels: when one of them feels in jeopardy, the others hear its signal and go to the adjacent protection. Though, if the signal comes from an individual who has caused lots of false alarms, its signal will be avoided.

The other common approach of learning is by association, where a stimulus is, based on the experience, linked to the other one which might not have something to do with the first one. The first studies of associative learning were made by the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov, his Phenomenon as well associated to the time and the attractive bell sound that do SAYs 'to learn makes  it away of the food'. An illustration of associative behavior is noticed when a common goldfish goes close to the water surface if a human is going to feed it.

1) Imprinting:

A second significant finding of Lorenz concerned the early learning of young nidifugous birds, a procedure he named imprinting. Lorenz noticed that the young of birds like chickens and geese followed their mothers spontaneously from almost the first day after they were hatched, and he discovered that this response could be imitated through an arbitrary stimulus when the eggs were incubated artificially and the stimulus was presented throughout a critical period (that is, a less temporally constrained period is termed as a sensitive period) which continued for a few days after hatching.

2) Imitation:

Finally, imitation is frequently a significant kind of learning. A well-documented illustration of imitative learning is that of macaques in Hachijojima Island, Japan. Such primates employed to live in the inland forest till 1960s, when a group of researchers began giving them some potatoes on the beach: soon they began venturing onto the beach, picking the potatoes from the sand, and cleaning and eating them.

Mating and supremacy:

Individual reproduction is the most significant stage in the proliferation of individuals or genes in a species: for this reason, we can frequently observe complex mating rituals, which can be much, complex even when they are frequently regarded as fixed action patterns (FAPs). The Stickleback's complex mating ritual was studied via Niko Tinbergen and is regarded as a notable illustration of a FAP. Often in social life, animals fight for the right of reproducing themselves and also social supremacy.

A common illustration of fight for social and sexual supremacy is the so-called pecking order among poultry. A pecking order is established each and every time a group of poultry co-lives for a certain quantity of time. In each of such groups, a chicken is dominating among the others and can peck before anyone else devoid of being pecked. A second chicken can peck all the others however the first, and so forth. The chicken in the higher levels can be simply differentiated for their well-cured feature, as opposed to the ones in the lower levels. Throughout the period in which the pecking order is establishing, often and violent fights can occur, however once it is established it is only broken if other individuals are entering the group, in which case the pecking order has to be established from the scratch.

Living in groups/Social behavior:

Some of the animal species, comprising humans, tend to live in groups. Group size is a main feature of their social environment. Social life is most likely a complex and efficient survival strategy. It might be regarded as a kind of symbiosis among individuals of the similar species: a society is composed of a group of individuals belonging to the similar species living in well-defined rules on food management, role assignments and reciprocal reliance. The condition is in reality much more complex than it seems. If biologists interested in the evolution theory first began examining social behavior, some apparently unanswerable questions occurred. How could, for example, the birth of sterile castes, like in bees, be explained via an evolving method that emphasizes the reproductive success of as many individuals as possible? Why, among animals living in small groups such as squirrels, would an individual risk its own life to save the rest of the group? Such behaviors might be illustrations of altruism.

Tinbergen's four questions for ethologists:

Lorenz's collaborator, Niko Tinbergen, stated that ethology for all time required to comprise four types of explanation in any instance of behavior:

1) Function: How does the behavior influence the animal's chances of survival and reproduction? Explain why the animal responds that way rather than some other manner?

2) Causation: What are the stimuli which elicit the response, and how has it been altered by recent learning? 

3) Development: How does the behavior change with age and what early on experiences are essential for the behavior to be displayed?

4) Evolutionary history: How does the behavior compare with same behavior in related species, and how might it have start via the procedure of phylogeny?

Growth of field in ethology:

Ethology is at present a well recognized scientific discipline and consists of a number of journals covering growths in the subject, like the Ethology Journal. In the year 1972, the International Society for Human Ethology was founded to encourage exchange of knowledge and opinions regarding human behavior gained through applying ethological principles and processes and published in their journal, The Human Ethology Bulletin. Throughout the year 2008, in a paper published in the journal Behaviour, Ethologist Peter Verbeek proposed the word 'Peace Ethology' as a sub-discipline of Human Ethology which is concerned by the issues of human conflict, reconciliation, conflict resolution, war, peacemaking and peacekeeping behavior.

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