When one thinks of a science, usually he remembers chemistry, biology, or other commonly mentioned studies. One does not usually consider ethology although it has provided useful information about animals in general and how they relate to people. The Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia defines ethology as “the study of the behavior of animals in their natural, or wild state (“ethology”). By studying animal behavior scientists hope to have a better understanding of other species. Ethology, which is a relatively new science, contributes much to one’s knowledge. It helps develop and confirm theories about the purpose and evolution of the behaviors exhibited by different species.
Ethology is a zoological science that was founded in the early 1900s. During this time period European zoologists began studying animals in their natural habitats. Ethological research was mainly started by zoologists who were conducting their own studies (“ethology”). Ethology is considered a very new science and is still known to be more popular in Europe than in the United States, which favored comparative psychology. There are still very few colleges that offer degrees in ethology found in the United States (“Ethology”). Many people do not know the difference between ethology and comparative psychology. Comparative psychologists and animal behaviorists focus on groups of species, usually mammals, and their learning abilities while ethologist usually study an individual species and concentrate more on innate or instinctual behavior. Ethologists are able to conduct studies on a wide variety of animals while most animal behaviorists limit their studies to species of higher intelligence (“Ethology”). Konrad Lorenz, Nikolaas Tinbergen, and Karl von Frisch made considerable contributions to ethology and were all awarded the Nobel Prize in 1973 for their ethological research in identifying animal behavior patterns. This was the first time such a prize was awarded for ethological studies (“ethology”). Some ethologists began in other fields. An example of this is Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall was studying anthropology and paleontology before she went on to do studies on animal behavior. She is one of the most famous ethologists mainly because of her research on chimpanzees. It was only after this research had started that she received her degree in ethology and primatology. This research took place in Gombe, which is in Africa, and required her to study a group of chimpanzees for a long period of time. This study allowed her to make the first documentation of some of the chimpanzee’s behaviors. One of these was eating meat when they were thought to be vegetarians. Her other two discoveries received considerably more attention. The primates were observed while using tools. Their social networks were also shown to be very complex since each animal had its own personality and place in its social hierarchy. These two traits were thought to belong only to humans (“Jane Goodall: An Extraordinary Life”). These studies led to more research with primates and new beliefs about animals in general.
Animal rights groups gain strength from some types of ethological research. When provided with evidence showing animals may have more advanced emotional and cognitive abilities, more people became concerned with their treatment. One group known to be concerned with animal welfare is EETA or Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. This group believes in keeping to a strict code of ethics in their procedures and research (www.ethologicalethics.org).
There is a basic procedure that is used in ethology. One starts by creating an ethogram. An ethogram is a list of the behaviors of a certain species. While consulting the ethogram, the scientist develops theories about the behaviors. Ethologists do research to find out how the behavior began and how it developed into what it has become. They also research its current uses and how it aids the survival of a species. Experiments are used to confirm or disprove these theories or help scientists decide if more research is needed. Not all ethologists follow this procedure. It is used more as guidelines than as a rule (“ethology”). A clue that is often used in research is the study of homologous behaviors.
Homologous behaviors are specific sets of actions found in a species. They can also be found in closely related species. Homologous behaviors aid ethologists by providing clues as to the origin and development of the behavior of a species (“Ethology”). Some of these are also known as species-specific behavior, which is often studied in individual species.
There are three types of species-specific behavior. There are fixed-action patterns, reflexes, and taxis. Fixed-action patterns are innate, instinctual, behaviors that are a response to a certain stimulus. This response may occur without the stimulus if the animal has not been in contact with suitable stimuli for a long period of time. An example of this is when a cat chases a toy in place of real prey. A reflex is also an innate behavioral response to a stimulus, but it will not occur without the presence of the stimulus. The best known example of this is probably the way a person’s leg moves if his knee is hit in a certain way. A taxis is a response to a stimulus that guides an animal continuously. Some simple organisms are drawn to heat or light through taxi. These are the main types of behavior studied by an ethologist (“Ethology”). One of the most important and well-known studies of ethology is imprinting.
Imprinting is a behavior that usually occurs when an animal is very young. The young animal becomes very attached to any large, moving animal, or object, it sees at birth and attempts to mimic it. This behavior would help it learn in the wild by keeping it in contact with others of the same species. This may aid in its survival by allowing the young animal’s parent to provide adequate protection and care (“imprinting”). A major study was done on imprinting with the graylag goose. The newborn geese imprinted on the first thing they saw as they hatched. When scientists exposed the newly hatched geese to people and moving objects, they found that the geese imprinted on these stimuli as though they were their parents (“ethology”). Over time much has changed about ethological studies and their goals.
Early ethologists had a very simple goal. Their goal was to study behavioral adaptation in different species. Most of these studies were focused solely on the functions of a behavior and were very comparative with other animals. After World War II there were many changes made in ethology. Scientists began to studyethology based on physiological aspects of behaviors and tried to provide evolutionary explanations in their studies as well as studying the functions of the behaviors. Both views are still expressed in today’s studies (“Classic Ethology Reappraised”).
Today’s ethologists do a wide variety of research. A recent study involved budgerigars, a species of bird. Scientists found that while male budgerigars attempted to attract most females they came into contact with, the females only chose specific mates. The female budgerigars chose mates whose songs sounded like their own. The males attempted to imitate nearby female’s songs in order to become attractive mates. This did not always work because the females showed an obvious preference for males whose songs were similar at their first encounter with one another (“Opposites Do Not Attract, Parrot Study Finds”). Having identified this behavior, ethologists may now create theories about how and why this behavior developed and what use it has now.
Some studies have to do with people as well as animals. Many ethologists hope to learn about human development from their studies of animals. Some believe there is a connection between imprinting in animals and attachment in humans. Children usually become attached at a young age to people they have a lot of contact with, such as parents. This is different from imprinting in that most children do not attach themselves to objects or other animals. Even with this difference, the two behaviors are thought to be linked, although they do fall short by some standards of homologous behaviors (“Attachment Theory”). This study may fall into a category of ethology that is known as comparative ethology.
Some ethologists have become more inclined to study cognitive ethology or comparative ethology. Cognitive ethology is defined as a mixture of ethology and comparative psychology. It has a focus on the thought processes that cause behaviors in any given species and allow some species to rationalize (“cognitive ethology”). There have been studies that stated primates might think rationally and expect others to behave in a way that is rational. One part of the study involved a scientist using his elbow to gesture at a container of food. The scientist did this once with his hands full and again with them empty. The study found that the container that was gestured at when one’s hands were full was the one favored by the primates. This allowed the researchers to theorize that the primates rationally thought that if one’s hands were empty he would gesture with his hands (Science Daily). Comparative ethology has a deeper focus on the relationship between different animals than general ethology. This type of research is used to find more information on an evolutionary basis for a behavior than general ethology (Konrad Lorenz Institute for Ethology).
Ethology is used in many different ways to learn about animals, but it is also very helpful in expanding one’s own knowledge of wildlife and species’ development. One may find that by studying ethology he is able to learn a great deal about animals and himself. As this relatively new science continues to develop and change new forms of knowledge and research will most likely be discovered.
- “Attachment Theory” http://personalityresearch.org/attachment.html
- “Cognitive Ethology” http://cogprints.org
- Eckhard H. Hess “Ethology” Encyclopedia Americana Groiler Online 25
February 2010 http:// ea.groiler.com
- Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (EETA) and Citizens for Responsible Animal Behavior Studies February 26, 2010 http://www.ethologicalethics.org
- “imprinting” February 26, 2010 http://education.yahoo.com./refrence/encyclopedia/entry/imprinti;ylt=Aijx3jacQn6v;NA469x.zAI8wF
- “Jane Goodall: An Extraordinary Life” Jane Goodall Institute Sep. 13 2007 The Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education, and Conservation. 26 February 2010 http://janegoodall.org
- Konrad Lorenz Institute for Ethology http://www.oeaw.ac.a/klivv
- “Opposites Do Not Attract, Parrot Study Finds” Science Daily Nov. 21 2006
- Pettijohn, Terry F. “ethology” Groiler Multimedia Encyclopedia 2010. Grolier Online. 25 February 2010 http://gme.groiler.com
- Saraiva, Rodrigo de Sa-Noqueira “Classic Ethology Reappraised” Behavior & Philosophy 2006.
- Science Daily 24 October 2008 http://ScienceDaily.org