Sunday, November 7, 2010

Konrad Zacarias Lorenz

Konrad Zacarias Lorenz was born on November 7, 1903 in Altenberg, Vienna, the son of an orthopedic surgeon. His parents had a large house and garden which allowed him to keep many animals. In an autobiography he says, "they were supremely tolerant of my inordinate love for animals." His study of animals started at a young age and he became an expert on the behaviour of ducks. His first exposure to evolution came from his reading, but in school, even though he studied under a Benedictine Monk he learned about Darwin's theory of evolution, free thought being a characteristic of Austria. His interest in the study of evolution led him to study paleontology as a means of understanding evolution.

After high school, following his father's wishes he took pre-medical school classes at Columbia University. He stayed at Columbia for a year before returning to Vienna where he continued his medical studies at the University of Vienna, finishing his MD in 1928. In medical school his anatomy professor was Ferdinand Hoschsetter, and under his teaching Lorenz began to study comparative anatomy, which he soon realized was a better way to study evolution than paleontology. After graduation, instead of practicing medicine Lorenz continued his studies in comparative anatomy, supporting himself by taking a position at the university as an assistant in the Institute of Anatomy, which he retained until 1935. In 1933 he finished his Ph.D. in comparative anatomy. Throughout he kept studying the birds on his parents estate.

In 1936 Lorenz met Nikolaas Tinbergen at a conference in Leiden, Holland. Lorenz found that their studies had much in common and he invited Tinbergen to come to work with him at his parents estate. With Tinbergen, he conducted experiments using the birds on his parent's estate. In these studies they compared the behavior of the wild, domestic and hybrid geese. They showed that domesticated geese had an increased drive for feeding and copulation, but showed a decrease in socialization. Soon after came the Anchluss, the German annexation of Austria, and Lorenz wrote about the differences of domesticated species using terms of Nazi ideology. These allowed Lorenz to be appointed the chair in psychology at Koningsberg. Lorenz later recanted these writings. During the World War II Lorenz served as a physician on the German side, until he was captured by the Russians, after which he was a prisoner of war, serving the medical needs of the Russian army.

After being released by the Russians, Lorenz returned to Altenberg. Unable to obtain an academic position, with the aid of donations and his students he continued his animal research there concentrating again on water fowl and fish. He made a study of the bonding of water fowl and aggressiveness of fish. Even after years of watching animals he found there were new insights and published more papers describing these behaviours. In 1950 the Max Planck Society established the Lorenz Institute for Behavioural Physiology in Buldern, Germany.

In 1973 Lorenz, Tinbergen, and Karl Von Frisch won the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine for "their discoveries concerning organization and elucidation of individual and social behavior patterns". They were awarded the prize for developing the science of ethology. Ethology is the study of animal behavior with regard to evolution. Where a psycologist will study the behavoir of an animal in a laboratory, out of the animals native environment, an ethologist studies behavior in the environment. Studying how evolution has affected an animal's behavior.

Lorenz died on February 27, 1989.


Fuller, Ray; Seven Pioneers of Psychology: Behaviour and Mind
; Psychology Press; 1995

Lorenz, Konrad, Nobel Autobiography

Lorenz, Konrad Wikipedia Entry

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