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< Articles by Julian Jaynes

Imprinting: The Interaction of Learned and Innate Behavior

Julian Jaynes
Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 1956, 49: 201-206.
(Split into Journal of Comparative Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience in 1982.)


A study of imprinting phenomena in 18 domestic neonate chicks showed that the following response to a moving object was part of a matrix of responses that included vocalization, attention and approaching. The reaction appeared suddenly within a few minutes of exposure and develops with gradual improvement over the first four days. Innate preferences appear, some objects providing better cues than others. There is a generalization decrement, strange objects being followed less well than those to which the bird was trained.


In the anatomical development of the embryo, there exist precise critical periods in which specific tissues are susceptible to environmental influences acting at that time but at no other, the fate and future of the tissue being fixed thereafter (9). It is now apparent that similar critical periods exist in behavioral development also - specific stages in ontogeny during which certain types of behavior normally are shaped with fate and molded for life, environmental influences losing effect after that time. Among insects, for example, interrace compatibility (3), host preferences in parasites (10), even color and morphology (2, 5) have, in some instances, been found to originate exclusively under environmental control during certain periods of early life. Recently, the behavioral growth of dogs has been sectioned into critical periods in which certain types of adjustments, such as emotional behavior and social responses, are thought to be fixed for the rest of life (7). And in man, the notion of discrete stages in psychosexual development and of the lasting effects of fixation at one period or another, has been found helpful in interpreting some clinical syndromes.