Tinbergen's four questions  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Tinbergen's four questions, named after Nikolaas Tinbergen, are categories of explanations of animal behavior.

Elementary school children can answer that animals have vision to help them find food and avoid danger (adaptation). Biologists have three additional explanations: sight is caused by a particular series of evolutionary steps (phylogeny), the mechanics of the eye (causation), and even the process of an individual’s development (ontogeny). Although these answers may be very different, they are consistent with each other. This idea was hashed out in the 1960s when Tinbergen delineated the four questions based on Aristotle's four types of causes. This schema constitutes a basic framework of the overlapping behavioral fields of ethology, behavioral ecology, sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, and comparative psychology.




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