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Filial imprinting is a dedicated learning process that lacks explicit reinforcement. The phenomenon itself is narrowly heritably canalized, but its content, the representation of the parental object, reflects the circumstances of the newborn. Imprinting has recently been shown to be even more subtle and complex than previously envisaged, since ducklings and chicks are now known to select and represent for later generalization abstract conceptual properties of the objects they perceive as neonates, including movement pattern, heterogeneity and inter-component relationships of same or different. Here, we investigate day-old Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) ducklings' bias towards imprinting on acoustic stimuli made from mallards' vocalizations as opposed to white noise, whether they imprint on the temporal structure of brief acoustic stimuli of either kind, and whether they generalize timing information across the two sounds. Our data are consistent with a strong innate preference for natural sounds, but do not reliably establish sensitivity to temporal relations. This fits with the view that imprinting includes the establishment of representations of both primary percepts and selective abstract properties of their early perceptual input, meshing together genetically transmitted prior pre-dispositions with active selection and processing of the perceptual input.

Original publication




Journal article


Biol Lett

Publication Date





Anas platyrhynchos, acoustic stimuli, behavioural timing, filial imprinting, innate pre-dispositions, mallard, Acoustic Stimulation, Acoustics, Animals, Ducks, Humans, Imprinting, Psychological, Infant, Newborn, Learning