Legal notice: What is this type of learning?

The term imprint refers to a means of acquiring learning the basics of the survival of a species. It is a phenomenon in which the psychic, biological and social processes converge.

Although this is a concept that emerged through biological studies, it has been adapted considerably to psychology and has provided different ways of understanding human development. Below, we review what fingerprint learning is, what is its context, and what applications it has in psychology today.

    What is the imprint?

    The word “imprint” can mean different things. It generally refers to a mark, an imprint or a reproduction of images on a relief. Taking from psychology and biology, the term “imprint” is used to describe a set of learning in a specific developmental period during which a human or animal has a greater sensitivity to certain stimuli. .

    In other words, an imprint is learning that we have acquired by recognizing a certain stimulus, at a certain stage of development. The stimulus to which our sensitivity is directed generally depends on the survival needs of the species.

    For example, most fingerprints involve learning to recognize parents or potential sexual partners. The study of this type of learning has developed considerably in ethology (The branch of biology that studies animal behavior in its own habitat) has been particularly observed in the behavior of birds.

      Context: Konrad Lorenz and the goose family

      The pioneer of this type of study is the American doctor and zoologist Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989), considered one of the fathers of ethology. Lorenz has studied geese behavior and their knowledge has been applied to replicate animal habitats where this has been done. that young people acquire skills to survive, Even if they are bred in captivity.

      In fact, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973 for describing the imprint, and it was given to him because the judges considered that his studies could bring important knowledge to psychiatry. In other words, since the second half of the last century, the imprint has also developed on the study of human behavior.

        Types of imprint in the study of behavior

        In ethology and psychology, imprinting can occur in different ways and depending on the characteristics of the species itself. However, in general terms, two types of fingerprints are recognized, Basic and necessary for the survival of all species: the filial imprint and the sexual imprint.

        1. Affiliate imprint

        The concept of imprint has been frequently applied in the tilt theory of psychology, with which, it has been significantly linked to filial relationships and how they are fundamental to survival.

        The latter is known as the ‘subsidiary imprint’, and it is an innate mechanism that it is activated when a young animal recognizes the characteristics of its parents, Specifically from the mother, who is usually the first to be observed at birth.

        The filial imprint has been observed both in birds and reptiles, and later in other species. From there, it has been suggested that recognizing and tracking parents at an early age allows that young people move away and protect themselves from predators. It also facilitates the learning needed to obtain the food, water, and warmth that parents initially provide.

        Therefore, it is necessary to consider how the senses are structured and how they connect with cognitive processes. In this sense, neurosciences and cognitive sciences have had a particular interest in the study of the imprint.

        For example, it has been used extensively to explain the phenomenon of memory through visual impressions. Many memory theories suggest that any experience or event reinforces and shapes particular pathways in the brain, which may correspond to much of fingerprint theory.

        2. Sexual imprint

        It is a process by which an animal learns to recognize the characteristics of a desirable sexual partner. One of its effects is, for example, the tendency of living things to relate to the beings of the species to which they were raised; those that have characteristics similar to those recognized by the subsidiary fingerprint.

        In the case of man, for example, the reverse effect of the sexual imprint when cohabitation takes place in the same domestic space has been studied. This is one way of explaining why it often happens that siblings who have been raised together do not develop sexual attraction to each other; however, if they are raised separately, it might happen more easily.

        This latter effect is known as the Westermarck effect, by the anthropologist who developed it (Edvard Westermarck), and has been useful in analyzing how inbreeding has been removed between different human societies.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Horn, G. (2004) online. Paths of the past: the imprint of memory. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 5: 108-120.
        • New World Encyclopedia. (2018). Impression (psychology). Accessed May 28, 2018. Available at
        • Squire, L. (2003). Fundamental neurosciences. Academic press: United States.

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