Tinbergen's 4 Questions -- 13 Aug 09 -- Moordown

When thinking about or discussing a problem with someone, we tend to focus on our one part of the problem, so each of us is understanding the whole problem as different . . . until we step back and bring in the other aspects.
. . . . CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE IT Tinbergen (1907-88) was a Dutch ethologist*[1] at Oxford after the WW2.
He delineated the four questions*[2]—or categories of explanations—of animal behavior (human), similar to Aristotle's*[3] four types of causes. This schema constitutes a basic framework of the overlapping behavioural fields of ethology, behavioural ecology, sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, and comparative psychology.

This tool helps to us to maintain AWARENESS that it is a particular aspect that we are focussing on when we study any animal (human) behaviour; we must be also aware of the other 3 aspects.

Proximate Questions about the individual animal (micro view*[4])
1. LIFETIME DEVELOPMENT - how does the behaviour change with the individual's age? What early experiences are necessary for the behaviour to be shown? Which developmental steps and environmental factors play a role?
2. Current MECHANISM - what are the stimuli that elicit the present response? How has it been modified by recent learning? How do behaviour and psyche "function" on the molecular, physiological, neuro, cognitive and social level? How do these relate to each other as a structure?

Ultimate Questions about the species (macro view)
3. EVOLUTIONARY HISTORY - how does the behaviour of this species compare with similar behaviour in related species? How might it have arisen through the process of evolution? Why did the behaviour evolve in this manner and not otherwise?
4. RESULT / EFFECT - how does the behaviour affect the animal's chances of survival and reproduction? What is the function or purpose*[5] of the behaviour in this context?

[1] Collins English Dictionary:
ethology (noun) is the study of the behaviour of animals in their normal environment (via Latin from Greek etholigia, from ethos character; current sense, C19)
[3] Neil pointed out this similarity to Aristotle on Thursday.
[4] 'micro/macro' view - this was added here after Bill suggested it on Thursday and and posted it here in his excellent COMMENT. He also said that the Historical Develpment is a "Process" and the Current Form is a "Snapshot".
[5] 'purpose' is an ambiguous and misinterpreted word which best avoided if possible.
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The topics we discussed, using the 4 Questions, included:
. . . How/why the human eye sees.
. . . Human behaviour in Bournemouth on Saturdays.
. . . Incest Taboo & the Westermark Effect

1 comment:

  1. Hello Peter,
    I thought your talk Thursday went very well. Your 'Peterised' version of Tinbergen's quadrant diagram and your titling was much clearer than the original. I thought his text was un-necessarily overstuffed with jargon.
    I see the top row (1 and 2) as the micro view (the individual) and the bottom row (3 and 4) as the macro view (species, generalised).
    I see the LH column (1 and 3) as the 'process' (the dynamics), and the RH column (2 and 4) as a 'snapshot' (a situation/product) resulting from the 'process'. There might of course be several clicks or snapshots as the process is producing its results.
    It's also intriguing to contemplate/imagine how the snapshots might look ranging into the future?

    Well done! To the audience you have an easy going style of teaching that commands affection and respect. One might also say enjoyment?