Konrad Lorenz

(1903 - 1989)

Compiled by Bethinee Snyder (May 1999)

Lorenz Biography
Time Line

Konrad Lorenz was born on November 7, 1903 in Austria. As a little boy, he loved animals and collected a variety of them. He had fish, dogs, monkeys, insects, ducks, and geese. His interest in animal behavior was intense. A neighbor gave him a duckling and he noticed that it transferred it's response to him, discovering imprinting as a young child. When he was 10 years old, Lorenz discovered evolution by reading a book by Wilhelm Bolsche. He saw a picture of an extract Archaeopteryx ( reptile) and began to understand the relationship between an earthworm and insects. Evolution gave him insight. If reptiles could become birds, annelid worms could develop into insects. As an adult, he held doctorates in medicine, zoology, and psychology and became one of Austria's most famous scientists.

Initially, he wanted to become a paleontologist, although he was interested in evolution and wanted to study zoology and paleontology. However, he obeyed his father and went to medical school. He studied medicine at Vienna, became a professor at the Albertus University in Konigberg, and went on to direct the Institute of Comparative Ethology at Altenberg, where he created a comparative ethology department in the Max Planck Institute. He co-directed the program in 1954. He is considered the founder of ethology, who has given to the world a deeper insight of behavioral patterns in animals.

1973 noble prize In 1966, he wrote On Aggression in which he argued that animal aggressive behavior is motivated by survival, while humans aggressive behavior may be channeled or modified. His other books include King Solomon's Ring (1949), Man Meets Dog (1950), The Eight Deadly Sins of Civilized Humanity, and The Decay of the Humane. In 1973 he won a Nobel Prize (shared with Karl Von Frisch & Niko Tinbergen) for his studies of human and animal behavior (photo on left). This was the first such prize to be awarded to behavioral scientists and was shared by the founders of the field of ethology. Konrad Lorenz was 85 years old whan he died in 1989.

Imprinting is the primary formation of social bonds in infant animals (Hess, 1973). It is also considered to be a special type learning. Lorenz discovered this phenomenon quite unexpectedly. Observing newly hatched ducklings and goslings, he discovered that they behaved in peculiar ways if they were exposed to abnormal environments during a few critical hours after hatching. He played with the hatchlings and recorded his observations. The newly hatched goslings and ducklings followed and became socially bonded to the first moving object they encountered. Even at maturity, these animals tried to court and attempted to mate with humans if they were imprinted to them. Lorenz was impressed by the fact that a young bird does not instinctively recognize adult members of it's own species but require this special type of learning( Lorenz 1935, 1937a).

He noted that this bond seemed to form immediately to a moving object and that it appeared to be irreversible. Imprinting to moving objects is a form of species specific behavior, since only a few species of birds exhibit this kind of behavior. This process of object acquisition is distinctly different from typical learning. First, imprinting is irreversible. It is essential in learning that what has been learned can be either forgotten or modified. Second, imprinting is restricted to very specific and brief stages in development, often only lasting for a few hours.

From his initial analysis of imprinting, Lorenz went on to identify the essential components of innate behavior and developed the central constructs of releasers and fixed action patterns which serve as the foundation of the study of animal behavior. Throughout his career he argued against the position of extreme behaviorism that rejected the relevance of instinct. Lorenz was intrumental in establishing an understanding that innate behaviors play a central role in the adaptations of organisms and the evolutionary process underlies the development of behavior.

It was Lorenz's hope that he had proven one thing: "that the study of instinctive behavior is not a field for extensive philosophical speculation, but one in which, at least for the time being, experimental analysis of each individual case is the only legitimate procedure."(Schiller, 1957, p.175).

Time Line
1903- Lorenz was born in Austria
1941- Recruited into German army as a medical man
1942- Lorenz was sent to the front near Wilebsk
2 months later- Lorenz taken prisoner by Russians
1948- Lorenz back home to Austria
1949- Published King's Solomon Ring
1950- Published Man Meets Dog
1963- Published On Aggression
1973- Awarded the Nobel Prize. Established research station in Northern Alpine Valley
1989- Died.

Hess, Eckhard. Imprinting: Early Experience and the Developmental Psychobiology of Attachment.1973
Sluckin, W. Imprinting and Early Learning. Aldine Publishing Company, Chicago. 1965. Pages 6-16.
Hess, Eckhard and Petrovich, Slobodan. Imprinting.1977 Dowden, Hutchinson and Ross Inc.
Schiller, Claire. Instinctive Behavior. 1957. Hallmark Press, New York

[History Home Page] [Psychology Department Home Page]