In 1973 Niko Tinbergen shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his studies on animal behavior. In his acceptance speech, however, Tinbergen talked about childhood autism. Extrapolating from his studies of approach-withdrawal conflict in herring gulls, Tinbergen argued that autistic children are victims of environmental stress caused mainly by a mother’s failure to bond with her child and to protect her child from conflicting situations.
In this talk I situate Tinbergen’s work on autism within the history of ethological explanations of human behavior. Tinbergen’s work is not only a testament to the hold of the view that mother love can exert a powerful influence on a child’s development, but it also exemplifies what I characterize as a naturalization of nurture. But how did he justify moving from non-human animals to humans? Can some animals be used as “models” for understanding human social behavior and emotions? Tinbergen’s work on autism can illuminate his answers to that still pressing epistemological question and also help us to better understand the long-standing appeal of explaining human behavior by looking at other species.
Speaker: Marga Vicedo, Associate Professor of the History of Science, University of Toronto
This event is free and open to the public.
This event is part of the New York History of Science Lecture Series.
New York University
Gallatin School of Individualized Study
Columbia University in the City of New York
City University of New York
The New York Academy of Sciences
The New York Academy of Medicine