: a rapid learning process that takes place early in the life of a social animal (as a greylag goose) and establishes a behavior pattern (as recognition of and attraction to its own kind or a substitute)
Form of learning wherein a very young animal fixes its attention on the first object with which it has visual, auditory, or tactile experience and thereafter follows that object. In nature, the object is almost always a parent; in experiments, other animals and inanimate objects have been used. Imprinting has been studied extensively only in birds, but a comparable form of learning apparently takes place among many mammals and some fishes and insects. Ducklings and chicks, which can imprint in a few hours, lose receptivity to imprinting stimuli within 30 hours of hatching.