Ethology is the scientific study of animal behaviour considered as a branch of zoology. A scientist who practises ethology is called an ethologist.

Origins of the name:

The term “ethology” derives from the Greek language, as ethos is the Greek word for "custom". Other words that derive from the Greek word ethos are: ethics and ethical. The term was first popularised in English by the American Myrmecologist William Morton Wheeler in 1902. An earlier, slightly different sense of the term was proposed by John Stuart Mill in his 1843 System of Logic. He recommended the development of a new science, "ethology," whose purpose would be the explanation of individual and national differences in character, on the basis of associationistic psychology. This use of the word was never adopted, however.

Differences and similarities with comparative psychology:

Ethology can be contrasted with comparative psychology, which also studies animal behaviour, but construes its study as a branch of psychology. Thus where comparative psychology sees the study of animal behaviour in the context of what is known about human psychology, ethology sees the study of animal behaviour in the context of what is known about animal anatomy and physiology. Furthermore, early comparative psychologists concentrated on the study of learning, and thus tended to look at behaviour in artificial situations, whereas early ethologists concentrated on behaviour in natural situations, tending to describe it as instinctive. The two approaches are complementary rather than competitive, but they do lead to different perspectives and sometimes to conflicts of opinion about matters of substance. In addition, for most of the twentieth century comparative psychology developed most strongly in North America, while ethology was stronger in Europe, and this led to different emphases as well as somewhat different philosophical underpinnings in the two disciplines. A practical difference is that comparative psychologists concentrated on gaining extensive knowledge of the behaviour of very few species, while ethologists were more interested in gaining knowledge of behaviour in a wide range of species, not least in order to be able to make principled comparisons across taxonomic groups. Ethologists have made much more use of a truly comparative method than comparative psychologists ever have.

Darwinism and the beginnings of ethology:

Because ethology is understood as a branch of biology, ethologists have been particularly concerned with the evolution of behaviour and the understanding of behaviour in terms of the theory of natural selection. In one sense the first modern ethologist was Charles Darwin, whose book The expression of the emotions in animals and men influenced many ethologists. However, he pursued his interest in behaviour by encouraging his protégé George Romanes, who investigated animal learning and intelligence using an anthropormorphic method that did not gain scientific support. The early ethologists, such as Oskar Heinroth and Julian Huxley instead concentrated on behaviours that can be called instinctive, or natural, in that they occur in all members of a species under specified circumstances. Their first step in studying the behaviour of a new species was to construct an ethogram, a description of the main types of natural behaviour with their frequencies of occurrence. This approach provided an objective, cumulative base of data about behaviour, which subsequent researchers could check and build on, and as a way of building a science of behaviour, it proved much more fruitful.

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