Konrad Lorenz

Konrad Lorenz bigraphy, stories - Austrian zoologist, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973.

Konrad Lorenz : biography

November 7, 1903 – February 27, 1989

Konrad Zacharias Lorenz (7 November 1903 – 27 February 1989) was an Austrian zoologist, ethologist, and ornithologist. He shared the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Nikolaas Tinbergen and Karl von Frisch. He is often regarded as one of the founders of modern ethology, developing an approach that began with an earlier generation, including his teacher Oskar Heinroth. Before the outbreak of World War II he joined the National Socialist Party, many of whose views he shared. During the war he worked as a military psychologist doing studies of racial hygiene in occupied Poland. In 1944 he was sent to the Eastern Front where he was captured and spent 4 years as a Soviet prisoner of war. After the war he regretted his membership of the Nazi party, although he continued to espouse views in his writings that have been described as anti-democratic and having racist overtones.

Lorenz studied instinctive behavior in animals, especially in greylag geese and jackdaws. Working with geese, he rediscovered the principle of imprinting (originally described by Douglas Spalding in the 19th century) in the behavior of nidifugous birds. In later life, his interest shifted to the study of humans in society.

He wrote numerous books, some of which, such as King Solomon’s Ring, On Aggression and Man Meets Dog became popular reading. His last work "Here I Am – Where Are You?" is a summary of his life’s work and focuses on his famous studies of greylag geese.


Lorenz joined the Nazi Party in 1938 and accepted a university chair under the Nazi regime. In his application for membership to the Nazi-party NSDAP he wrote in 1938: "I’m able to say that my whole scientific work is devoted to the ideas of the National Socialists." His publications during that time led in later years to allegations that his scientific work had been contaminated by Nazi sympathies: his published writing during the Nazi period included support for Nazi ideas of "racial hygiene" couched in pseudoscientific metaphors. After the war Lorenz long denied having been a party member until his membership request turned up, and he also denied having known about the extent of the genocide in spite of having held a post as a psychologist in the Office of Racial Policy.Klopfer 1994; Deichmann 1992. He also denied having ever held anti-semitic views, but were later shown to have used frequent antisemitic language in a series of letters to his mentor Heinroth.Klopfer 1994.

In his biography he wrote:

"I was frightened—as I still am—by the thought that analogous genetical processes of deterioration may be at work with civilized humanity. Moved by this fear, I did a very ill-advised thing soon after the Germans had invaded Austria: I wrote about the dangers of domestication and, in order to be understood, I couched my writing in the worst of nazi terminology. I do not want to extenuate this action. I did, indeed, believe that some good might come of the new rulers. The precedent narrow-minded catholic regime in Austria induced better and more intelligent men than I was to cherish this naive hope. Practically all my friends and teachers did so, including my own father who certainly was a kindly and humane man. None of us as much as suspected that the word "selection", when used by these rulers, meant murder. I regret those writings not so much for the undeniable discredit they reflect on my person as for their effect of hampering the future recognition of the dangers of domestication."

During the final years of his life Lorenz supported the fledgling Austrian Green Party and in 1984 became the figurehead of the Konrad Lorenz Volksbegehren, a grass-roots movement that was formed to prevent the building of a power plant at the Danube near Hainburg an der Donau and thus the destruction of the surrounding woodland.

Contributions and legacy

With [[Nikolaas Tinbergen (left), 1978]]

Lorenz has been called ‘The father of ethology’, by Niko Tinbergen. Perhaps Lorenz’s most important contribution to ethology was his idea that behavior patterns can be studied as anatomical organs. This concept forms the foundation of ethological research.