Nikolaas Tinbergen

Nikolaas Tinbergen
Niko Tinbergen

Nikolaas "Niko" Tinbergen (left) and Konrad Lorenz (right)
Born 15 April 1907(1907-04-15)
The Hague, Netherlands
Died 21 December 1988(1988-12-21) (aged 81)
Residence UK
Nationality Dutch
Fields Zoologist, ethologist
Institutions Oxford University
Alma mater Leiden University
Doctoral students Richard Dawkins
Aubrey Manning
Desmond Morris
Known for Hawk/goose effect
Four questions
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1973)

Nikolaas "Niko" Tinbergen (15 April 1907 – 21 December 1988) was a Dutch ethologist and ornithologist who shared the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Karl von Frisch and Konrad Lorenz for their discoveries concerning organization and elicitation of individual and social behaviour patterns in animals.

In the 1960s he collaborated with filmmaker Hugh Falkus on a series of wildlife films, including The Riddle of the Rook (1972) and Signals for Survival (1969), which won the Italia prize in that year and the American blue ribbon in 1971.



Born in The Hague, Netherlands, he is also noted as the brother of Jan Tinbergen, who won the first Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. He had a third eminent brother, Luuk Tinbergen who committed suicide in 1955 at age 39.

Tinbergen's interest in nature manifested itself when he was young. He studied biology at Leiden University and was a prisoner of war during World War II. Tinbergen's experience as a prisoner of the Nazis led to some friction with longtime intellectual collaborator Konrad Lorenz, and it was several years before the two reconciled. After the war, Tinbergen moved to England, where he taught at the University of Oxford. Several of his Oxford graduate students went on to become prominent biologists; these include Richard Dawkins, Marian Dawkins, Desmond Morris, and Iain Douglas Hamilton.

He married Elisabeth Rutten and they had five children. Later in life he suffered depression and feared he might, like his brother, commit suicide. He was treated by his friend, whose ideas he had greatly influenced, John Bowlby.[1] Tinbergen died on 21 December 1988, after suffering a stroke at his home in Oxford, England.

Four Questions

He is well known for originating the four questions he believed should be asked of any animal behaviour,[2][3] which were:

Proximate mechanisms:

  • 1. Causation (Mechanism): what are the stimuli that elicit the response, and how has it been modified by recent learning? How do behaviour and psyche "function" on the molecular, physiological, neuro-ethological, cognitive and social level, and what do the relations between the levels look like? (compare: Nicolai Hartmann: "The laws about the levels of complexity")
  • 2. Development (Ontogeny): how does the behaviour change with age, and what early experiences are necessary for the behaviour to be shown? Which developmental steps (the ontogenesis follows an "inner plan") and which environmental factors play when / which role? (compare: Recapitulation theory)

Ultimate mechanisms:

  • 3. Evolution (Phylogeny): how does the behaviour compare with similar behaviour in related species, and how might it have arisen through the process of phylogeny? Why did structural associations (behaviour can be seen as a "time space structure") evolve in this manner and not otherwise?*
  • 4. Function (Adaptation): how does the behaviour impact on the animal's chances of survival and reproduction?

In ethology and sociobiology causation and ontogeny are summarized as the "proximate mechanisms" and adaptation and phylogeny as the "ultimate mechanisms". They are still considered as the cornerstone of modern ethology, sociobiology and transdisciplinarity in Human Sciences.

Supernormal Stimuli

A major body of Tinbergen's research focused on what he termed Supernormal Stimuli. This was the concept that one could build an artificial object which was a stronger stimulus or releaser for an instinct than the object for which the instinct originally evolved. He constructed plaster eggs to see which a bird preferred to sit on, finding that they would select those that were larger, had more defined markings, or more saturated color—and a dayglo-bright one with black polka dots would be selected over the bird's own pale, dappled eggs.

Tinbergen found that territorial male stickleback fish would attack a wooden fish model more vigorously than a real male if its underside was redder. He constructed cardboard dummy butterflies with more defined markings that male butterflies would try to mate with in preference to real females. The superstimulus, by its exaggerations, clearly delineated what characteristics were eliciting the instinctual response.

Among the modern works calling attention to Tinbergen's classic work in the field of Supernormal Stimuli has been the Deirdre Barrett book of 2010, "Supernormal Stimuli".


Tinbergen applied his observational methods to the problems of children with autism. He recommended a "holding therapy" in which parents hold their autistic children for long periods of time while attempting to establish eye contact, even when a child resists the embrace.[4] However, his interpretations of autistic behavior, and the holding therapy that he recommended, lacked scientific support.[5]


  • Tinbergen, Niko The Study of Instinct 1951 Oxford, Clarendon Press
  • Tinbergen, Niko The Herring Gull's World (1953) London, Collins
  • Hans Kruuk (2003) Niko's Nature: The Life of Niko Tinbergen and His Science of Animal Behaviour ISBN 0-19-851558-8
  • Marian Stamp Dawkins (1991) The Tinbergen Legacy ISBN 0-412-39120-1
  • Richard W. Burkhardt Jr. (2005) Patterns of Behavior : Konrad Lorenz, Niko Tinbergen, and the Founding of Ethology ISBN 0-226-08090-0
  • Dewsbury, Donald A (2003). "The 1973 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine: recognition for behavioral science?". American Psychologist 58 (9): 747–52. 2003 Sep. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.58.9.747. PMID 14584992 
  • Raju, T N (1999). "The Nobel chronicles. 1973: Karl von Frisch (1886-1982); Konrad Lorenz (1903-89); and Nikolaas Tinbergen (1907-88).". Lancet 354 (9184): pp. 1130. 1999 Sep 25. PMID 10509540 
  1. ^ Frank C. P. van der Horst. (2010) John Bowlby’s Treatment of Nikolaas “Niko” Tinbergen’s Depressions. History of Psychology. 13(2) 206-208doi:10.1037/a0019381c
  2. ^ Lorenz, Konrad 1937: Biologische Fragestellungen in der Tierpsychologie (in English: Biological Questions in Animal Psychology). Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie, 1: 24-32
  3. ^ Tinbergen, Niko 1963: On Aims and Methods in Ethology. Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie, 20: 410-433 [1]
  4. ^ Tinbergen N, Tinbergen EA (1986). Autistic Children: New Hope for a Cure (new ed.). Routledge. ISBN 0041570111. 
  5. ^ Bishop DVM (2008). "Forty years on: Uta Frith's contribution to research on autism and dyslexia, 1966–2006". Q J Exp Psychol 61 (1): 16–26. doi:10.1080/17470210701508665. PMC 2409181. PMID 18038335. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Nikolaas Tinbergen — nació en La Haya, Países Bajos el 15 de abril de 1907, murió el 21 de diciembre de 1988, fue el tercero de cinco hijos de Dirk C. Tinbergen y Jeannette van Eek. Obtuvo el doctorado en Ciencia en la Universidad de Leiden, en donde fue profesor de… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Nikolaas Tinbergen — nació en La Haya, Holanda el 15 de abril de 1907, murió en 1988, fue el tercero de cinco hijos de Dirk C. Tinbergen y Jeannette van Eek. Obtuvo el doctorado en Ciencia en la Universidad de Leiden, en donde fue profesor de Zoología Experimental.… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Nikolaas Tinbergen — Niko Tinbergen (r.) und Konrad Lorenz, 1978 Nikolaas Tinbergen (* 15. April 1907 in Den Haag; † 21. Dezember 1988 in Oxford) war ein bedeutender niederländischer Ethologe. Zwischen 1940 und 1949 war er Professor an der Universität Lei …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Nikolaas Tinbergen — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Tinbergen. Nikolaas Tinbergen (gauche) et Konrad Lorenz (droite), 1978 Nikolaas Tinbergen (15 avril …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Nikolaas Tinbergen — noun Dutch zoologist who showed that much animal behavior is innate and stereotyped (1907 1988) • Syn: ↑Tinbergen • Instance Hypernyms: ↑zoologist, ↑animal scientist …   Useful english dictionary

  • Medizinnobelpreis 1973: Karl von Frisch — Konrad Lorenz — Nikolaas Tinbergen —   Die österreichischen Zoologen Karl von Frisch und Konrad Lorenz sowie der britisch niederländische Forscher Nikolaas Tinbergen wurden »für ihre Entdeckungen zur Organisation und Auslösung von individuellen und sozialen Verhaltensmustern«… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • TINBERGEN (N.) — TINBERGEN NIKOLAAS (1907 1988) Professeur de zoologie expérimentale à l’université de Leyde de 1936 à 1947, puis à l’université d’Oxford, Nikolaas (ou Niko) Tinbergen figure parmi les fondateurs de l’éthologie comparative ou étude objective du… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Tinbergen — is a surname, and may refer to:* Jan Tinbergen Nobel Prize winning economist * Joost Tinbergen * Luuk Tinbergen * Nikolaas Tinbergen Nobel Prize winning ethologist * Tijs Tinbergen …   Wikipedia

  • Tinbergen — ist der Familienname der niederländischen Brüder Jan Tinbergen, (1903 1994), Mathematiker, Wirtschaftswissenschaftler und Nobelpreisträger Luuk Tinbergen, (1916 1955), Ökologe Nikolaas Tinbergen, (1907 1988), Verhaltensforscher Sonstiges… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Tinbergen, Jan — born April 12, 1903, The Hague, Neth. died June 9, 1994, The Netherlands Dutch economist noted for his development of econometric models. For 40 years (1933–73) he taught at The Netherlands School of Economics. As economic adviser to the League… …   Universalium

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