From Ethology to Behavioral Biology

Taborsky, Michael (2019). From Ethology to Behavioral Biology. In: Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior (2nd ed.) (pp. 99-102). Elsevier 10.1016/B978-0-12-809633-8.20849-2

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Understanding behavior has been a crucial aim for philosophers and scientists since Aristotle and, particularly, Charles Darwin. In the first half of the 20th century, a coherent scientific discipline–ethology–emerged as afield initially concerned especially with the causation of behavior at the proximate level. Early ethology had its origins in psychology and physiology and employed often a comparative approach; using behavior as a tool to analyse phylogenetic relationships was a prime target. With help of cybernetic models researchers like Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen aimed at understanding instinct and the origin and organization of drives. Ethologists were aware of the limitations of a purely mechanistic approach, though,and therefore strived to study behavior at the levels of ontogeny, immediate causation, function and evolution. With the emergence of behavioral ecology as a sub-discipline concerned solely with the function and adaptive value of behavior,ethology got a new impetus. Its power to develop hypotheses based on evolutionary theory and to test their specific predictions experimentally gained this research field great popularity, even at the expense of a narrow perspective. Eventually,after the turn of the millennium ethologists returned to a more balanced approach in the study of behavior, considering ontogeny, causation and evolution besides function. This has coincided with a new name for the discipline: behavioral biology.

Item Type:

Book Section (Encyclopedia Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Ecology and Evolution (IEE)

UniBE Contributor:

Taborsky, Michael


500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology








Niklas Ingvar Paulsson

Date Deposited:

24 Mar 2020 15:30

Last Modified:

24 Mar 2020 15:30

Publisher DOI:


Additional Information:

Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior (2nd ed.), Vol. 1




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