An Instinct for Animal Behavior

Zoologist Nikolaas Tinbergen was born in The Hague, the Netherlands, on this day in 1907. Tinbergen helped found the fledgling field of ethology, the study of how animals behave in response to environmental stimuli. He worked closely with Austrian zoologist Konrad Lorenz; together they theorized that instinct arises from an animal's impulses, after the environment triggers a repetitive behavior they called a fixed-action pattern.

Tinbergen, who spent most of his career in the zoology department at the Oxford University Museum in England, also was an award-winning writer and a producer of nature films on stimulus-response processes in wasps, fish, and gulls. His 1951 book, The Study of Instinct, introduced ethology to many readers. Tinbergen, Lorenz, and German zoologist Karl von Frisch shared the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1973, the first time the Nobel Committee recognized research in sociobiology or ethology. Tinbergen died in 1988.

[Source: Emily McMurray, Ed., Notable Twentieth Century Scientists (Gale Research Inc., ITP, 1995).]