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Phsychological Imprinting

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Psychological Imprinting: How does it work?

Have you ever met a person who has raised a non-domesticated animal as a pet? It would seem that this relationship would not work out between these two very different species. It is possible though for this animal and human coexist with this relationship and circumstances through the psychological process of imprinting. Imprinting is a specialized type of programmed learning that can be seen in higher animal species (Wikipedia, 2002). When learning using imprinting, animals learn rapidly and independent of the consequences of their behaviors. Imprinting is often used in show animals, such as horses, and cattle because the selected animals have to be able to cope with a high amount of human interaction, not too mention large, loud crowds.

One of the most influential people in the history of imprinting is Konrad Lorenz. Lorenz was originally known as one of the father’s of ethology. Ethology is the zoological study of animal behavior. One of the key concepts of ethology is the discovery that predictable behavioral programs are inherited from parents and portions of programs are open to natural selection and modification (Wikipedia, 2002). In the 1930’s Lorenz theoretically analyzed imprinting. He had two major revelations on imprinting. One was that imprinting was a result of an instinct and that the most effective stimuli for this form of imprinting would be the figures representing the adults of a given species. The other was that the critical period for imprinting to occur could be limited and restricted to the subject’s earliest life (McClelland, 2003).

From this point Lorenz could test filial imprinting. Filial Imprinting is a form of imprinting in which a young animal learns the characteristics of its parent (Sparknotes, 2006). Lorenz’s most known imprinting trial was done with baby geese. Goslings are known to follow the first thing they see when they hatch. In the case of Lorenz’s experiment, when his goslings started to hatch from their incubated eggs he was what they saw and successfully followed everywhere. He determined that the critical period for geese to find their suitable stimuli for imprinting is within the first thirty five hours after hatching (Wikipedia, 2002).

Much like animals, human babies also require filial imprinting. In the process of child development imprinting first starts to occur when the baby is in the womb and starts to recognize their parents’ voices (Kis ilevsky, 2003). So when a baby is born they can already recognize their parents voices and then must just match a face to the sound.

Another form of imprinting is sexual imprinting. Sexual imprinting is when mate preference is affected by learning at a very young age (Irwin, 2005). One example is that male zebra finches seem to prefer mates with the appearance of the female bird that raises them. So if a male zebra finch was imprinted at birth by a female purple finch as a mother figure he would more likely show species confusion in being attracted to mate with a female purple finch (Wikipedia, 2002).

It is important when trying to understand imprinting that one can recognize that animal behaviors develop as a result of genetic and environmental factors interactions with them. A baby is born with genetic factors, like instinctive behaviors. Instinctive behaviors are genetically programmed and there is little room for experience or learning after birth to influence them (Cardoso, 2003). An example



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