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Konrad Lorenz
Lorenz and Tinbergen1.jpg
Lorenz (right) with Niko Tinbergen in 1978
Born 7 November 7 1903
Died February 27, 1989(1989-02-27) (aged 85)
Nationality Austrian
Awards Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1973)
Scientific career
Fields Ethology

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, the study of animal behaviour. He developed an approach that began with an earlier generation, including his teacher Oskar Heinroth.

Working with geese, Lorenz investigated the principle of imprinting, the process by which some nidifugous birds (i.e. birds that leave their nest early) bond instinctively with the first moving object that they see within the first hours of hatching.

Although Lorenz did not discover the topic, he became widely known for his descriptions of imprinting as an instinctive bond.

50 Schilling 1998 Konrad Lorenz
50 Schilling 1998 Konrad Lorenz
Vadaspark KonradLorenz JZs
Statue of Konrad Lorenz - Miskolc, Hungary

Lorenz's work was interrupted by the onset of World War-II and in 1941 he was recruited into the German army as a medic. In 1944 he was sent to the Eastern Front where he was captured and spent four years as a Soviet prisoner of war. After the war he regretted his membership in the Nazi party.

Lorenz 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.

In his autobiographical essay, published in 1973 in Les Prix Nobel (people who win the Nobel Prize are asked to write essays about their lives), Lorenz said that his parents were the main reason he was so successful. He also said that a book by Selma Lagerlof called The Wonderful Adventures of Nils that he read as a child was the reason he became interested in wild geese.


Lorenz 1904
Lorenz in 1904 with his elder brother

Lorenz was the son of Adolf Lorenz, a wealthy and distinguished surgeon, and his wife Emma (née Lecher), a physician who had been her husband's assistant. The family lived on a large estate at Altenberg, and had a city apartment in Vienna. He was educated at the Public Schottengymnasium of the Benedictine monks in Vienna.

In his autobiographical essay, published in 1973 in Les Prix Nobel (winners of the prizes are requested to provide such essays), Lorenz credits his career to his parents, who "were supremely tolerant of my inordinate love for animals", and to his childhood encounter with Selma Lagerlöf's The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, which filled him with a great enthusiasm about wild geese."

At the request of his father, Adolf Lorenz, he began a premedical curriculum in 1922 at Columbia University, but he returned to Vienna in 1923 to continue his studies at the University of Vienna. He graduated as Doctor of Medicine (MD) in 1928 and became an assistant professor at the Institute of Anatomy until 1935. He finished his zoological studies in 1933 and received his second doctorate (PhD).

While still a student, Lorenz began developing what would become a large menagerie, ranging from domestic to exotic animals. In his popular book King Solomon's Ring, Lorenz recounts that while studying at the University of Vienna he kept a variety of animals at his parents' apartment, ranging from fish to a capuchin monkey named Gloria.

In 1936, at an international scientific symposium on instinct, Lorenz met his great friend and colleague Nikolaas Tinbergen. Together they studied geese—wild, domestic, and hybrid.

Konrad lorenz-rusky lagr 1944-fotka
Lorenz as a Soviet POW in 1944

In 1940 he became a professor of psychology at the University of Königsberg. He was drafted into the Wehrmacht in 1941. He sought to be a motorcycle mechanic, but instead he was assigned as a military psychologist, conducting racial studies on humans in occupied Poznań under Rudolf Hippius. The objective was to study the biological characteristics of "German-Polish half-breeds" to determine whether they 'benefitted' from the same work ethics as 'pure' Germans. The degree to which Lorenz participated in the project is unknown, but the project director Hippius referred a couple of times to Lorenz as an "examining psychologist".

He was sent to the Russian front in 1944 where he quickly became a prisoner of war in the Soviet Union from 1944 to 1948. In captivity in Soviet Armenia, he continued to work as a medic and "became tolerably fluent in Russian and got quite friendly with some Russians, mostly doctors." When he was repatriated, he was allowed to keep the manuscript of a book he had been writing, and his pet starling. He arrived back in Altenberg (his family home, near Vienna) both "with manuscript and bird intact." The manuscript became his 1973 book Behind the Mirror.

The Max Planck Society established the Lorenz Institute for Behavioral Physiology in Buldern, Germany, in 1950. In his memoirs Lorenz described the chronology of his war years differently from what historians have been able to document after his death. He himself claimed that he was captured in 1942, where in reality he was only sent to the front and captured in 1944, leaving out entirely his involvement with the Poznań project.

In 1958, Lorenz transferred to the Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Physiology in Seewiesen. He shared the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for discoveries in individual and social behavior patterns" with two other important early ethologists, Nikolaas Tinbergen and Karl von Frisch. In 1969, he became the first recipient of the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca. He was a friend and student of renowned biologist Sir Julian Huxley (grandson of "Darwin's bulldog", Thomas Henry Huxley). Famed psychoanalyst Ralph Greenson and Sir Peter Scott were good friends. Lorenz and Karl Popper were childhood friends; many years after they met, during the celebration of Popper's 80 years, they wrote together a book entitled Die Zukunft ist offen.

He retired from the Max Planck Institute in 1973 but continued to research and publish from Altenberg and Grünau im Almtal in Austria. He died on 27 February 1989 in Altenberg.

Personal life

Lorenz married his childhood friend, Margarethe Gebhardt, a gynaecologist, daughter of a market gardener who lived near the Lorenz family; they had a son and two daughters. He lived at the Lorenz family estate, which included a "fantastical neo-baroque mansion", previously owned by his father.

Honours and awards


Lorenz's best-known books are King Solomon's Ring and On Aggression, both written for a popular audience. His scientific work appeared mainly in journal articles, written in German; it became widely known to English-speaking scientists through its description in Tinbergen's 1951 book The Study of Instinct, though many of his papers were later published in English translation in the two volumes titled Studies in Animal and Human Behavior.

  • King Solomon's Ring (1949) (Er redete mit dem Vieh, den Vögeln und den Fischen, 1949)
  • Man Meets Dog (1950) (So kam der Mensch auf den Hund, 1950)
  • Evolution and Modification of Behaviour (1965)
  • On Aggression (1966) (Das sogenannte Böse. Zur Naturgeschichte der Aggression, 1963)
  • Studies in Animal and Human Behavior, Volume I (1970)
  • Studies in Animal and Human Behavior, Volume II (1971)
  • Motivation of Human and Animal Behavior: An Ethological View. With Paul Leyhausen (1973). New York: D. Van Nostrand Co. ISBN: 0-442-24886-5
  • Behind the Mirror: A Search for a Natural History of Human Knowledge (1973) (Die Rückseite des Spiegels. Versuch einer Naturgeschichte menschlichen Erkennens, 1973)
  • Civilized Man's Eight Deadly Sins (1974) (Die acht Todsünden der zivilisierten Menschheit, 1973)
  • The Year of the Greylag Goose (1979) (Das Jahr der Graugans, 1979)
  • The Foundations of Ethology (1982)
  • The Waning of Humaneness (1987) (Der Abbau des Menschlichen, 1983)
  • Here I Am – Where Are You? – A Lifetime's Study of the Uncannily Human Behaviour of the Greylag Goose. (1988). Translated by Robert D. Martin from Hier bin ich – wo bist du?.
  • The Natural Science of the Human Species: An Introduction to Comparative Behavioral Research – The Russian Manuscript (1944–1948) (1995)

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