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Ethology - The Study of Innate Animal Behavior

Guest Author - Deborah Watson-Novacek

Ethology is the zoological study of animal behavior. The word "ethology", derived from the Greek "ethos," meaning "character", and "logia," meaning "the study of", was coined to describe a sub-topic of zoology - the scientific study of animal behavior. American biologist William Morton Wheeler, who specialized in the study of ants (a myrmecologist), first popularized the term in 1902.

More specifically, ethologists are primarily interested in behaviors that are genetically ingrained within animals - their instinctual behavior - rather than any learned behavior animals may obtain from their parents or other creatures. This is how ethologists differ from "animal behaviorists." Animal behaviorists are primarily interested in studying learned behaviors. Additionally, animal behaviorists are generally trained in psychology, while ethologists are considered zoologists.

The behavioral "programs" that animals inherit through their parents are affected by the process of natural selection and can change over time as animals evolve and change to better fit their environment. Therefore, these innate behaviors can be traced back through time providing an evolutionary history for the behavior.

Researchers study these behavioral changes in other primates, such as chimps, to determine how they may relate to the biological basis of human behavior. This type of study, called phylogenetics is the study of evolutionary relatedness among groups of organisms.

The origins of ethology date back to Charles Darwin's work with the so-called "expressive movements" of man and animals. He was the first naturalist to utilize the comparative phylogenetic method in the study of animal behavior. His book on the subject, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animal, influenced many future ethologists.

Early ethologists Julian Huxley and Oskar Heinroth specialized in studying animal behaviors that are considered instinctive, or "natural." These are behaviors that are found to occur naturally (as opposed to learned) in all members of a given species. Huxley and Heinroth developed a tool called an "ethogram" which they used at the beginning of each behavioral study of a new species. The ethogram is a detailed description of the main types of natural behavior noted along with the frequencies of the behavior's occurrence.

The modern history of ethology began in the 1930s with the work of biologists Nikolaas Tinbergen, Konrad Lorenz, and Karl von Frisch. These three men shared the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and are generally accepted as the "fathers of ethology."

Lorenz is known for his identification of "fixed action patterns," or FAPs. An FAP is an action patter that is an instinctive response that occurs reliably when an animal is exposed to certain identifiable stimuli (sometimes called sign or releasing stimuli).

Once FAPs are documented, they can be compared between different species, making it simpler to identify the similarities and differences between behavior that may then be more easily compared with the similarities and differences in animal morphology. Work by Karl von Frisch built on FAPs in his study of the "dance language" used by bees as a communicative device.

Another well-known ethologist, Irenus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, successfully applied ethological methods such as FAPs to human behavior. Eibl-Eibesfeldt's best known work was the study and recording of communication between humans using a side-viewing camera that allowed him to study his subjects without them knowing they were being observed. He then compared FAPs, like gestures and body language, across various cultures and was able to identify many behavior patterns in humans that are considered to be innate rather than learned.

A now well-recognized and respected scientific discipline, ethology is now studied by many biologists, primatologists, zoologists, and anthropologists as well as by veternarians and physicians! In fact, most ethology researchers obtain advanced degrees in one of these science specialties before beginning their studies in ethology.

Following is a listing of many of the scientists, past and present, who have made notable contributions to the study of ethology:

- Robert Ardrey
- John C Angel
- George Barlow
- Adrian Simpson
- Patrick Bateson
- John Bowlby
- Donald Broom
- Dorothy Cheney
- Raymond Coppinger
- John H. Crook
- Marian Stamp Dawkins
- Richard Dawkins
- Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt
- John Endler
- Jean-Henri Fabre
- John Fentress
- Dian Fossey
- Karl von Frisch
- Douglas P. Fry
- Jane Goodall
- James L. Gould
- Judith Hand
- Clarence Ellis Harbison
- Heini Hediger
- Oskar Heinroth
- Robert Hinde
- Bernard Hollander
- Sarah Hrdy
- Julian Huxley
- Lynne Isbell[11]
- Julian Jaynes
- Alex Kacelnik
- Erich Klinghammer
- Peter Klopfer
- Otto Koehler
- John Krebs
- Paul Leyhausen
- Konrad Lorenz
- Aubrey Manning
- Eugene Marais
- Patricia McConnell
- Desmond Morris
- Martin Moynihan
- Caitlin O'Connell-Rodwell[12]
- Manny Puig
- Irene Pepperberg
- George Romanes
- Thomas A. Sebeok
- Edward Selous
- Robert Seyfarth
- B. F. Skinner
- Barbara Smuts
- William Homan Thorpe
- Niko Tinbergen
- Jakob von Uexküll
- Frans de Waal
- William Morton Wheeler
- E. O. Wilson
- Amotz Zahavi
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Content copyright © 2018 by Deborah Watson-Novacek. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Deborah Watson-Novacek. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact BellaOnline Administration for details.


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