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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Ethology \E*thol"o*gy\, n. [Gr. ? a depicting of character; ? custom, moral nature + ? to speak.]

  1. A treatise on morality; ethics.

  2. The science of the formation of character, national and collective as well as individual.
    --J. S. Mill.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

late 17c., "mimicry, art of depicting characters by mimic gestures," from Latin ethologia, from Greek ethologia, from ethos "character" (see ethos). Taken by Mill as "science of character formation" (1843); as a branch of zoology, "study of instincts," from 1897. Related: Ethological.


n. 1 (context zoology English) The scientific study of human and animal behaviour. 2 (context obsolete English) The study of the human ethos.


n. the branch of zoology that studies the behavior of animals in their natural habitats


Ethology is the scientific and objective study of animal behaviour, usually with a focus on behaviour under natural conditions, and viewing behaviour as an evolutionarily adaptive trait. Behaviourism is a term that also describes the scientific and objective study of animal behaviour, usually referring to measured responses to stimuli or trained behavioural responses in a laboratory context, without a particular emphasis on evolutionary adaptivity. Many naturalists have studied aspects of animal behaviour throughout history. Ethology has its scientific roots in the work of Charles Darwin and of American and German ornithologists of the late 19th and early 20th century, including Charles O. Whitman, Oskar Heinroth, and Wallace Craig. The modern discipline of ethology is generally considered to have begun during the 1930s with the work of Dutch biologist Nikolaas Tinbergen and by Austrian biologists Konrad Lorenz and Karl von Frisch, joint awardees of the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Ethology is a combination of laboratory and field science, with a strong relation to some other disciplines such as neuroanatomy, ecology, and evolutionary biology. Ethologists are typically interested in a behavioural process rather than in a particular animal group, and often study one type of behaviour, such as aggression, in a number of unrelated animals.

Ethology is a rapidly growing field. Since the dawn of the 21st century, many aspects of animal communication, emotions, culture, learning and sexuality that the scientific community long thought it understood have been re-examined, and new conclusions reached. New fields, such as neuroethology, have developed.

Understanding ethology or animal behaviour can be important in animal training. Considering the natural behaviours of different species or breeds enables the trainer to select the individuals best suited to perform the required task. It also enables the trainer to encourage the performance of naturally occurring behaviours and also the discontinuance of undesirable behaviours.

Usage examples of "ethology".

I had behaved like a bull in a china shop, because that which could not be figured out by anthropology and ethnography, with their field research, or by the profoundest philosophical reflection -- meditation on "human nature," and which defied prepositional formulation in both neurophysiology and ethology, and which provided fertile ground for ever-proliferating metaphysics, for psychological abstrusity, and for psychoanalysis classical and linguistic, and God knows what other esoteric study -- I had attempted to cut through, like the Gordian knot, with my proof contained in nine printed pages.