Imprinting in child development is the process by which a baby learns who its mother and (in some species) father are.

The biologist Konrad Lorenz studied imprinting and was followed by a gaggle of geese who had imprinted on him (more specifically, on his wading boots).

Table of contents
1 Sexual imprinting
2 Westermarck effect
3 Westermarck vs. Freud
4 External links

Sexual imprinting

Sexual imprinting is the process by which a young animal learns the characteristics of a desirable mate. For example, male zebra finches appear to prefer mates with the appearance of the female bird that rears them, rather than mates of their own type.

Sexual imprinting on objects other than people is the most popular theory of the development of sexual fetishism. For example, according to this theory, imprinting on shoes or boots (as with Lorenz' geese) would be the cause of shoe fetishism.

Westermarck effect

Reverse sexual imprinting is also seen: when two people live in close domestic proximity during the first few years in the life of either one, both are desensitized to later close sexual attraction and bonding.

The Westermarck effect was discovered by anthropologist Edward Westermarck.

This has since been observed in many places and cultures, including in the Israeli kibbutz system, and the Shim-pua marriage customs of Taiwan, as well as in biological-related families.

When this does not occur, for example where a brother and sister are brought up not knowing about one another, they may find one another highly sexually attractive when they meet as adults. This observation is consistent with the theory that reverse imprinting evolved to suppress inbreeding.

Westermarck vs. Freud

Freud argued that members of the same family naturally lust for one another, making it necessary for societies to create incest taboos, but Westermarck argued the reverse, that incest taboos themselves arise naturally as products of response mediated by a relatively simple inherited epigenetic rule, namely the Westermarck effect. Subsequent research over the years supports Westermarck's observations and interpretation.

See also:

  • Westermarck, E. A. 1921 The history of human marriage, 5th edn. London: Macmillan.

External links