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acquisition of behavior in many animal species, in which, at a critical period early in life, the animals form strong and lasting attachments. Imprinting is important for normal social development. The term was first used by the zoologist Konrad Lorenz to describe the way in which the social characteristics of greylag geese and other fowl become instilled in their young offspring (see ethologyethology,
study of animal behavior based on the systematic observation, recording, and analysis of how animals function, with special attention to physiological, ecological, and evolutionary aspects.
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). In natural circumstances imprinting, to the mother, food, or surroundings, occurs instinctively during a biologically fixed time span; it is very difficult to extinguish. Under experimental conditions chicks and ducklings readily become imprinted to an appropriate model such as a moving decoy or a human being. Subsequent learning may be tied to and reinforced by the imprinted object, and later social behaviors, such as the greeting ceremony and courtship, may be directed exclusively to the mother-substitute. In fowl, attachment increases with the amount of effort the offspring must exert to follow the imprinted object. The onset of fear in an organism is believed to end the period of imprintability. There is evidence that in fowl the imprinting period begins before hatching and is characterized by vocal communication between mother and unhatched ducklings.



in ethology (the science of animal behavior), a specific form of learning in animals; the fixation in the animal’s memory of the distinctive features of objects at which instinctive behavioral actions are directed. Such objects are the parents (simultaneously serving as bearers of the characteristic traits of the species), siblings (offspring of the same litter), future sexual partners (male or female), food (including prey), and natural enemies (the external appearance of the enemy is imprinted in conjunction with the warning cries of the parents), as well as, possibly, the characteristic traits of the usual place of habitation (birth). The best studied and most noticeable form of imprinting is the following response of newly hatched birds or mammal offspring, whereby they follow their parents or one another. The fixation in imprinting of the distinctive features of objects usually occurs in the early stages of life, most often soon after birth, and is possible only during a definite, limited period—the “sensitive” or “critical” period. As a rule, the result of imprinting cannot be changed in the future (the “irreversibility” of the results of imprinting).

The term “imprinting” in traditional psychology is used in the sense of the fixation of certain information in the memory.


Slonim, A. D. Osnovy obshchei ekologicheskoi fiziologii mlekopitaiushchikh. Moscow-Leningrad, 1961.
Tinbergen, N. Povedenie zhivotnykh. Moscow, 1969. (Translated from English.)
Lorenz, K. Über tierisches und menschliches Verhalten, vols. 1–2. Munich, 1965.
Sluckin, W. Imprinting and Early Learning. Chicago, 1965.



The very rapid development of a response or learning pattern to a stimulus at an early and usually critical period of development; particularly characteristic of some species of birds.
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