Ethology is the science that studies the behavior of animals, either in their natural environment or in captivity. Although field studies are more common than laboratory ones.


The goal of ethology is to investigate how animals relate to their environment. This, particularly in aspects such as mating, aggressiveness, socialization, the evolution of their behavior over time, among others.

In simple terms, what ethology seeks is to identify whether the animal’s behavior is due to an internal factor, perhaps genetic, or to a response learned as a result of interaction with the environment. In some cases, the combination of both variables may occur.

Characteristics of ethology

The main characteristics of ethology are the following:

  • It is a branch of biology.
  • You can study both those innate behaviors, typical of instinct, and those that are learned in the relationship with the environment or with other animals. Also, as we mentioned earlier, some behaviors result from a mix of various factors.
  • When the human being is considered an animal too, there is the so-called human ethology, which is a branch within psychology.
  • Taking into account the above, it can be concluded that ethology is related to both zoology and human psychology.
  • Who specializes in this matter is known as an ethologist.
  • This science also seeks to identify the level of consciousness of animals, which varies by species.
  • Study how fauna behaves to ensure its survival. For example, scientists have identified that some animals practice monogamy as a way to preserve the species because both parents will care for the young. This would be the case, for example, of penguins.
  • Studies are usually carried out on the animal in its natural environment, although there are also experiments in controlled environments.
  • It differs from behaviorism (or behaviorism) in that it does not consider that the animal’s behavior can always be explained as a response to a stimulus. Instead, it includes the internal or innate component, so behavior could not always be taught or conditioned.

Origin of ethology

Ethology appeared in the early 20th century, with renowned researchers such as Konrad Z. Lorenz and Nikolaas Tinbergen.

In the case of Lorenz, for example, he studied the phenomenon of imprinting, by which animals develop a connection with the first being they see at birth.

Lorenz studied in particular the case of goose chicks that follow the animal, or even people, whom they recognize as their mother. This would be explained because it was the first being they saw when they opened their eyes.