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Konrad Lorenz

Konrad Lorenz

Nobel Prize Winner, dubbed the Father of Ethology, Konrad Zacharias Lorenz was an Austrian zoologist born in the November of 1903. From an early age, Lorenz fell in love with animals and by the time he reached high school, he was infatuated with the theory of evolution and wanted to pursue a career in zoology and paleontology. However, it was at the insistence of his father that Lorenz started pursuing medicine at Columbia University. It was later that he realized that embryology and comparative anatomy provided better access to the problems of evolution than paleontology ever could. During his research, Lorenz recorded observations about animal behavior of a jackdaw that he kept. The diary of his animal observation was published in 1927 in the prestigious Journal für Ornithologie. Seeing his interest, Professor Karl Buhler encouraged him to read books on animal behavior by two contradicting schools of thought: MacDougall and Watson. The study made him realize that none of these people were experts in the field of animal behavior, and it fell on him to take up the responsibility of devolving it into a new branch of science. He completed his degree from University of Vienna in 1928 and later completed Doctorate in zoology in 1933.

One of his seminal works in the field of Ethology is his studies on imprinting, an irreversible learning process early in life where visual and auditory stimuli from caregiver induces the young to emulate their guardian. Lorenz demonstrated the phenomenon by appearing before new-born ducklings and quacking like mother duck, upon which the ducklings regarded him as their mother and began tailing him. Konrad Lorenz was also responsible for putting forward an innate releasing mechanism theory. He maintained that some instinctive behavior patterns of an animal remain dormant until an external stimulus triggers it. In 1940, Lorenz joined the faculty of University of Konigsberg as Chair of Psychology. But as World War II engulfed Europe, Lorenz joined the army as a military psychologist in 1941. In 1944, he was sent to the Russian Front where he was arrested and held captive for 4 years.  In 1958, he was appointed as the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Behavior Physiology.

In 1973, Konrad Lorenz was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology, along with two other early ethologists, for their discoveries in individual and social behavior patterns. At the award ceremony, Professor Borje Cronholm of Royal Karolinska Institute lauded the work done in Ethology. He said that while the understanding of lower organisms, animals and insects were significant, the new approaches to the study of the human mind and behavior that this would result in was the main reason for the Prize. It was in 1960s that Konrad’s career underwent a shift from solely study animal behavior to including human social behavior. In his book Civilized Man’s Eight Deadly Sins, he wrote that while the human race underwent development and progress, the technology did nothing to ease the suffering of mankind. He was one of the earliest scientists to point out the problem of overpopulation and its implications. His other works include King Solomon’s Ring and On Aggression. He died of kidney failure at the age of 85.

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