Nikolas Tinbergen and his 4 questions

Nikolaas Tinbergen- a founding father of animal behaviour

A Dutch ethologist and ornithologist, Tinbergen received the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Lorenz and von Frisch for their work on animal behaviour.

Arguably Tinbergen’s most famous contribution were the ‘four questions’ around how and why an animal exhibited a certain behaviour. These were:

‘How’ (Proximate) questions

  • Mechanism (Causation) – how does the behaviour get elicited? What signals are required and what pathways within the animal (for example neural pathways) are involved?
  • Development (Ontogeny)- how does the behaviour change with age, experience and environment?

‘Why’ (Ultimate) questions

  • Evolution (Phylogeny) – how did evolution and earlier generations/species contribute to this certain behaviour?
  • Function (Adaptation) – how does this behaviour help the organism/species survive?

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And here.