Donald Griffin

Donald Griffin bigraphy, stories - American zoologist

Donald Griffin : biography

August 3, 1915 – November 7, 2003

Donald Redfield Griffin (August 3, 1915 – November 7, 2003) was an American professor of zoology at various universities who did seminal research in animal behavior, animal navigation, acoustic orientation and sensory biophysics. In 1938, while an undergraduate at Harvard University, he began studying the navigational method of bats, which he identified as animal echolocation in 1944. In The Question of Animal Awareness (1976), he argued that animals have conscious minds like those of humans.

Griffin was born on August 3, 1915 in Southampton, New York and attended Harvard University, where he was awarded bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. After serving on the faculty of Cornell University he became a professor at his alma mater and later worked at Rockefeller University.Yoon, Carol Kaesuk. , The New York Times, November 14, 2003. Accessed July 16, 2010.

While at Harvard in the late 1930s, Griffin worked with Robert Galambos on studies of animal echolocation. Using sound capture technology that had been developed by physicist G. W. Pierce, Galambos and Pierce were able to determine that bats generate and hear sounds an octave higher than can be heard by humans and other animals. Experiments they conducted used methods developed by Hallowell Davis to monitor the brains of bats and their hearing responses as they navigated their way past wires suspended from a laboratory ceiling. They showed how bats used echolocation to accurately avoid obstacles, which they were unable to do if their mouths or ears were kept shut.Martin, Douglas. , The New York Times, July 15, 2010. Accessed July 16, 2010. Griffin coined the term "echolocation" in 1944 to describe the phenomenon, which many physiologists of the day could not believe was possible.

At a time when animal thinking was a topic deemed unfit for serious research, Griffin became a pioneer in the field of cognitive ethology, starting research in 1978 that studied how animals think. His observations of the sophisticated abilities of animals to gather food and interact with their environment and each other led him to conclude that animals were conscious, thinking beings, not the mere automatons that had been postulated. In its obituary, The New York Times credited Griffin as "the only reason that animal thinking was given consideration at all". While critics argue that cognitive ethology is anthropomorphic and subjective, those in the field have studied the ways that animals form concepts and mental states based on their interactions with their environment, showing how animals base their actions and anticipate the responses of other sentient beings. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1952. In 1958 he was awarded the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.

He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

A resident of Lexington, Massachusetts since his 1986 departure from Rockefeller University, Griffin died at his home there at age 88 on November 7, 2003. He was survived by two daughters and a son.


  • Listening in the Dark (1958)
  • Echoes of Bats and Men (1959) Anchor Books (Doubleday). Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 59-12051
  • Bird Migration: The Biology and Physics of Orientation Behaviour (1965) London: Heinemann
  • Animal Thinking (1985) Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-03713-8
  • Question of Animal Awareness (1976) ISBN 0-86576-002-0
  • Animal Minds (1992)
  • Animal Minds: Beyond Cognition to Consciousness (2001) ISBN 0-226-30865-0