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Konrad Lorenz's Imprinting Theory

By Saul McLeod, published 2018


Lorenz (1935) took a large clutch of goose eggs and kept them until they were about to hatch out.  Half of the eggs were then placed under a goose mother, while Lorenz kept the other half beside himself for several hours.

When the geese hatched Lorenz imitated a mother duck's quacking sound, upon which the young birds regarded him as their mother and followed him accordingly.  The other group followed the mother goose.

Lorenz found that geese follow the first moving object they see, during a 12-17 hour critical period after hatching.  This process is known as imprinting, and suggests that attachment is innate and programmed genetically.

Imprinting has consequences, both for short-term survival, and in the longer term forming internal templates for later relationships.  Imprinting occurs without any feeding taking place.  If no attachment has developed within 32 hours, it’s unlikely any attachment will ever develop.

To ensure imprinting had occurred Lorenz put all the goslings together under an upturned box and allowed them to mix.  When the box was removed the two groups separated to go to their respective 'mothers' - half to the goose, and half to Lorenz.

Imprinting does not appear to be active immediately after hatching, although there seems to be a critical period during which imprinting can occur.

Hess (1958) showed that although the imprinting process could occur as early as one hour after hatching, the strongest responses occurred between 12 and 17 hours after hatching, and that after 32 hours the response was unlikely to occur at all.

Lorenz and Hess believe that once imprinting has occurred, it cannot be reversed, nor can a gosling imprint on anything else.

References

Hess, E. H. (1958). Imprinting in animals. Scientific American, 198(3), 81-90.

Lorenz, K. (1935). Der Kumpan in der Umwelt des Vogels. Der Artgenosse als auslösendes Moment sozialer Verhaltensweisen. Journal für Ornithologie, 83, 137–215, 289–413.

How to reference this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2018, Oct 31). Konrad Lorenz's imprinting theory. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/Konrad-Lorenz.html

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