• Description

Donald Redfield Griffin (1915-2003) was an American zoologist best known for his discovery of echolocation and for his later work on animal consciousness. He was a central figure in behavioral biology and sensory physiology in the United States, and he made important contributions to the disciplinary and intellectual development of animal behavior research in the second half of the twentieth century. During his early career, he focused on the sensory physiology of animal navigation. Along with fellow Harvard graduate student Robert Galambos (1914-2010), in the late 1930s, Griffin discovered the ultrasonic method of orientation in bats; in 1944, he coined the term "echolocation" to describe this phenomenon as a general method of perception. In addition to his discovery of echolocation, Griffin also made several contributions to understanding the physiological basis of bird migration and navigation, and he popularized in the United States zoologist Karl von Frisch's (1886-1982) dance language theory of the honeybee.


In 1976, Griffin surprised the scientific world by raising the question of animal consciousness, a taboo in professional science for most of the twentieth century. Beginning with his provocative book, The Question of Animal Awareness (1976), Griffin devoted the second phase of his career to making animal consciousness a scientifically respectable topic once again. Here again, he made significant contributions to the study of animal behavior by establishing a new field of science, cognitive ethology, which is centered on the evolutionary and comparative analysis of consciousness and cognition in animal behavior.