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Imprinting, with special reference to anxiety Dillon, Peter John


The general purpose of this research was to investigate the behaviour of newly-hatched chickens during their first few days of life. Various degrees of social isolation and of approximation to a normal environment were used, and special note was taken of their behaviour which might reflect the presence of anxiety in the chicks. With these observations as a base-line, the behaviour of comparable chicks in a typical imprinting situation was then examined, again with special reference to behavioural indices of anxiety. Based on both sets of observations, an analysis of the psychological processes underlying the behaviour in the imprinting situation was made. There were several reasons for proceeding in this manner: (1) Observation of chicks in a non-experimental situation provides knowledge of their usual behaviour, and thereby reduces the probability that subsequent interpretations will be artificial, and that subsequent conclusions regarding their behaviour will be erroneous. (2) Unless record is made of the usual behaviour of chicks in a non-experimental situation, it is not possible to assess the effect of any experimental procedure. (3) Reports in the literature have usually indicated that behaviour in the imprinting situation is characterized by fairly stereotyped following of a moving object. Preliminary observations and discussion suggested that such reports were entirely too narrow, and that other behaviour in the situation had been neglected. This other behaviour was felt to be as significant as the following behaviour customarily reported. Both sets of observation provided abundant evidence that the behaviour of the chicks in the imprinting situation was not fundamentally different from their behaviour in a less experimental environment, and confirmed the belief that the behaviour in the imprinting situation was not as rigid and narrow as usually reported. The several theories of imprinting were examined from this wider point of view, especially that of Howard Moltz (I960). Certain inconsistencies in Moltz’s theory were discussed, and some alternative ideas, mainly concerning anxiety novelty and habituation, were introduced.

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