- Lorenz , Konrad Zacharias
- (1903–1989) Austrian ethologistAlfred Lorenz, father of Konrad, was a very wealthy Viennese orthopedic surgeon who had developed a new operation for a congenital dislocation of the femur, a common complaint of the period. He was keen for his son to follow him into medicine and consequently, though reluctantly, Lorenz studied medicine at Columbia in New York and at the University of Vienna, where he gained his MD in 1929. He remained at Vienna to complete his PhD in 1933 on the comparative anatomy and evolution of avian wings. Lorenz was appointed lecturer in animal psychology in 1937.Alfred Lorenz had bought a sizeable estate at Altenberg, a site about twenty miles outside Vienna. It was on this family estate that Lorenz first began his researches on animal behavior. Here he studied a jackdaw colony that had settled on the roof of his father's house. He also began to rear goslings; wild geese had proved to be too difficult to study profitably. Among other tasks Lorenz systematically classified the signals and behavior patterns of his goslings. Before long he had constructed a ‘glossary’ of their various calls and behavior patterns. They presented a number of problems. What did they mean? How did they originate in the individual? And how could such behavior patterns evolve?In his bird studies Lorenz made good use of the phenomenon of imprinting, first described by Heinroth in 1911. Goslings, as they hatch tend to take the first object they encounter to be their mother. Lorenz would allow goslings and other birds to imprint themselves upon him and thereby gain easy access to them without actually taming them. It became a common sight at Altenberg to see Lorenz followed by a line of goslings who, if threatened, would scurry to him in alarm. He noted some of the properties of the process and defined it as “a developmental process by which behavior becomes attached to a particular object.” No reinforcement is required; mere passive exposure will suffice. It is also irreversible, and is clearly innate.In 1937 Lorenz began to offer an explanatory system – a new theory of instinct – to account for many aspects of animal behavior. Much complex behavior, he noted, came perfectly formed and required no initial learning period. Nor did it necessarily arise from external stimuli. For example, Lorenz noted starlings in mid-winter hunting nonexistent flies, presumably responding to some internal drive – a form of behavior he described as ‘vacuum activities’.He went on to characterize instincts in terms of four properties: they were clearly innate; they were species-specific; they involved stereotyped behavior; and instincts also involved what Lorenz termed ‘action specific energies’, which were discharged by the presence of innate releasing mechanisms, also known as ‘releasers’.Thus the sight of a male stickleback's red belly (releaser) in the breeding season induces a stereotyped aggressive response in a rival male. The response is species and action specific. Lorenz likened the process to liquid in a reservoir. Just as water is released by opening a valve, the instinctive behavior innate in the system is discharged when presented with the appropriate releaser. Later ethologists have objected that Lorenz's model underestimates environmental influences.Lorenz's work at Altenberg was interrupted by the onset of World War II. He served as a physician in the German army and was taken prisoner by the Russians in 1944. He was released in 1948 and on his return to Austria he was invited by the Max Planck Institute to establish a Department of Comparative Ethology at Buldern, Westphalia. The department moved in 1961 to the Institute for Behavioral Physiology, Seewiesen, Bavaria. On his retirement in 1973 Lorenz returned, along with his geese, to Grunau in Austria where he established his own research institute with funds provided by the Austrian Academy.By this time Lorenz had become world famous. Two books published in the 1950s, King Solomon's Ring (1952) and Man Meets Dog (1954), were immensely popular and have remained in print. He assumed a more controversial role in 1966 with hisOn Aggression, in which he argued that aggression was not necessarily an evil as it also served a number of evolutionary purposes. Man, he claimed, actually suffered from “an insufficient discharge of his aggressive drive.” Equally controversial wasMan's Eight Deadly Sins (1974), in which he warned against the genetic deterioration of the human race.
Scientists. Academic. 2011.