Love at First Sight

This theory of  imprinting was later elaborated by the Austrian zoologist Lorenz (1937) and in decades of subsequent research (Lorenz, 1937, (1988; (Todd & Miller, 1993). As a result of his close observation of ground-nesting birds like ducks and greylag geese, Lorenz concluded that  imprinting occurs quickly, takes place only during a critically brief period of time (usually by the first morning after hatching), and is irreversible. Deprived of the sight or sound of its mother, a little duckling or gosling will "adopt" as its parent the first thing it sees and/or hears: a human being (especially if he or she quacks in response to a hatchling’s plaintive peep), or, strangely in the absence of a voice, even a silent inanimate object like a cardboard box, a red balloon, or a white ball. If young ducks or geese imprint on a human, they will affectionately follow in a gaggle wherever their "parent" leads, a phenomenon that was strikingly illustrated in 1993 when Canadian artist and inventor Bill Lishman helped forgetful geese migrate 400 miles from Ontario to Virginia by training them to follow his ultralight airplane, and again the next year when he led another flock of avian amnesiacs by air all the way to South Carolina. By using  imprinting to induce the geese to follow his airplane, Lishman became "Father Goose". His aerial exploits are described in his autobiography and were imaginatively and poignantly reenacted in the 1996 family film "Fly Away Home", starring Jeff Daniels. Lorenz’ basic theory of  filial imprinting is now well documented and accepted by the scientific community. Investigators have even identified the part of a bird’s brain that enables a chick to imprint (Horn, 1998McCabe & Nicol, 1999).

In addition to advancing the theory of  filial imprintingLorenz also proposed a theory of  sexual imprinting. According to this theory, the image imprinted on the brain of the young animal (originally designed by nature to make it easier for an offspring to identify and find its nurturing parent) also has the effect of defining and determining its mating preferences in the future. Thus, upon becoming sexually mature, the young animal seeks out a mate that closely resembles the parental imprint implanted in its brain.

A Lasting Impression


What, you may justifiably ask, does all this have to do with my love-life? If I fall in love at first sight, will I be acting like a "bird-brain"?? Well, perhaps. Birds and human beings are, after all, both links in evolution’s chain, though there is a huge biological gap between them.

Recent research, however, suggests that  imprinting does indeed influence our choice of mates. People’s faces have been shown to resemble not only their sexual partners’ faces but also the faces of their own parents of the opposite sex, especially when it comes to hair color and eye color (Bereczkei, Gyuris, Koves, & Bernath, 2002Little, Penton-Voak, Burt, & Perrett, 2003). The age of our parents also seems to influence our choice of mate, with females born to older parents being attracted to the faces of older men, and males born to older parents being drawn to the faces of older women (Perrett, Penton-Voak, Little, Tiddeman, Burt, Schmidt et al., 2002). Furthermore, daughters who were adopted between two and eight years old, or who rated their childhood relationships with their fathers highly, chose husbands whose faces looked like those of the fathers who raised them (Bereczkei, Gyuris, & Weisfeld, 2004Wiszewska, Pawlowski, & Boothroyd, 2007).

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