Ethology is a theory that emphasizes the ability of biology to impact behavior. Ethology states that behavior can be directly related and linked to not only biology, but to evolution and the impact of this is heightened even more so during particularly critical and sensitive periods in an individual’s development. Those who subscribe to the idea of ethology believe that the experiences an individual undergoes (or fails to undergo) can have a dramatic and lasting impact on the individual.
A zoologist by the name of Konrad Lorenz conducted a groundbreaking study on ethology by using the behavior of greylag geese. Greylag geese are known for following their mothers (or the first moving object they see) immediately upon hatching. Lorenz separated two groups of eggs, allowing one group to hatch with their mother near, and the other group to hatch with him near. The first group followed their mother, as expected, while the second group followed Lorenz. Lorenz then put both groups together, along with the mother goose, and the goslings each followed whoever had been present at their hatching; the mother or Lorenz.
Another researcher, by the name of Bowlby, believed that the attachment an individual develops with a caregiver during the very early years of life has dramatic affect on the continued growth and development throughout that individual’s life. Bowlby believed that if this attachment was positive and provided the individual with a sense of security, that the likelihood of positive growth and develop to continue throughout is great. However, if the attachment to the caregiver is negative and does not provide the individual with security, the person may suffer the after affects of this poor connection for the remainder of their life.
Both Bowlby and Lorenz believed that these actions to create an attachment in an individual must take place at an early, sensitive age or they will never occur. Had the geese not been “imprinted” immediately following birth, it is unlikely their behavior would have changed later down the road. According to Bowlby, children, much like the greylag geese, must be imprinted with these attachments and behaviors at an early age or they may never be imprinted upon. By developing these attachments to caregivers at such an early age, the stage is set for continued positive growth and development.
Santrock, John W.. Life-span development . 13th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Print.
Theoretical Perspectives on Human Development
Ethological Theory of Human Learning