Imprinting as Social Learning
- Timothy JohnstonTimothy JohnstonUniversity of North Carolina at Greensboro, Department of Psychology
Imprinting is a form of rapid, supposedly irreversible learning that results from exposure to an object during a specific period (a critical or sensitive period) during early life and produces a preference for the imprinted object. The word “imprinting” is an English translation of the German Prägung (“stamping in”), coined by Konrad Lorenz in 1935 to refer to the process that he studied in geese. Two types of imprinting have traditionally been distinguished: filial imprinting, involving the formation of an immediate social attachment to the mother or a mother-substitute, and sexual imprinting, involving the formation of a sexual preference that is manifested later in life. Both types of imprinting were subject to extensive experimental study beginning around 1950. Originally described in precocial birds (ducks, geese, and domestic chickens), imprinting has also been used to explain the formation of early social attachments in other species, including human infants. Imprinting has served as a useful model for studying the neural processes involved in learning and behavioral development and has provided a framework for thinking about other developmental processes.