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Lorenz, Konrad (Zacharias)

behaviour animals animal studies

[loh rents] (1903–89) Austrian ethologist: a founder of modern ethology.

A surgeon’s son, Lorenz studied medicine in New York and Vienna and graduated in 1928. Afterwards he taught anatomy in Vienna but by the mid-1930s his interest had moved to animal psychology; in fact he had collected animals and recorded their habits from childhood. In the late 1930s he made close studies of bird colonies, and in 1935 described ‘imprinting’. An example of this is the way a young bird regards the first fair-sized moving object it sees as a representative of its species. This is usually a parent, but Lorenz showed it could be a model, a balloon, a tractor or a human being. In Lorenz’s view, much behaviour is genetically fixed or innate; this was in conflict with the ideas of most psychologists of the 1930s, who saw behaviour as entirely flexible or learned. Their emphasis was on laboratory experimentation on animal learning, while Lorentz valued studies of species-specific behaviour in the wild. In 1942 he joined the German army (as a motor cycle instructor and then as a psychiatrist), was captured and spent 4 years as a prisoner in the USSR (he studied the courtship rituals of his fleas). Later, working in Austria, he continued his studies on birds and other animals, and his generalizations did much to found ethology as a particular branch of animal behaviour study. Lorenz has been criticized for his emphasis on innate patterns and for his extrapolations from animals to man. His views on human aggressiveness, population expansion and environmental deterioration are pessimistic. He shared a Nobel Prize in 1973 .

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