Konrad Lorenz

Konrad Lorenz Lorenz is best known among biologists for his pioneering work on imprinting in young animals. During a critical period early in their lives, many young animals learn the identity of their mother and father. Once learned, this identity is firmly fixed and may be used later in life in identifying mates, forming flocks, and in other social interactions. Lorenz found that by substituting himself for the mother during this critical period, he could induce young geese to imprint on him. Famous photographs of Lorenz show him being followed by geese imprinted in this way.

A prolific writer, Lorenz synthesized much early ethological thought about communication, learning, and social interactions. In addition to his work on imprinting, he set the stage for understanding the instinctive basis of animal behavior, and for the role of learning within the framework set by instinct.

Lorenz attempted to draw on his experiences with animals to analyze human behavior and culture. On Aggression, his analysis of the role of aggression in shaping human and animal societies, generated substantial controversy because of its argument, in part, that behavioral tendencies are instinctive and unmodifiable by experience. This met fierce political resistance from American psychologists, who were strongly aligned on the nurture side of the nature-nurture argument. More recent work, such as that by American psychologist Robert Plomin, demonstrates a very credible role for genetics (nature) in shaping human personalities.

Lorenz, K. 1950. The comparative method of studying innate behavioural patterns. Sym. Soc. Exp. Biol. 4:221-268.

Lorenz, K. 1952. King Solomon's ring; new light on animal ways. New York: Crowell .

Lorenz, K. 1965. Evolution and modification of behavior. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lorenz, K. 1966. On aggression. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.

Plomin, R. 1988. Nature and nurture during infancy and early childhood. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press.