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  1. Johan J. Bolhuis

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0435

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

Bolhuis, J. J. 2010. Imprinting. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–2.

Author Information

  1. Utrecht University, The Netherlands

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


Imprinting is the learning process through which the social preferences of animals of certain species become restricted to a particular object or class of objects. Filial imprinting is involved in the formation, in young animals, of an attachment to, and a preference for, the parent or parent surrogate. Sexual imprinting is involved in the formation of mating preferences that are expressed later in life. Lorenz 1937 gave the phenomenon its name in an influential paper in which he provided a detailed description of imprinting in a number of bird species. Filial imprinting has been studied mostly in precocial birds such as ducklings and domestic chicks. These birds can move about shortly after hatching, and they approach and follow an object to which they are exposed. In a natural situation this object is usually the animal's mother, but inanimate mother surrogates are also effective in eliciting filial behavior (Horn, 1985; Bolhuis, 1991). A chick learns the features of an object during the time the bird is exposed to it, remains close to it, and may run away from novel objects. When given a choice between the familiar stimulus and a novel one, the bird shows a preference for the familiar stimulus.


  • filial imprinting;
  • memory;
  • learning;
  • avian brain