Created By: RytexMarch 17, 2012 Last Edited By: RytexMarch 20, 2013
Troped

Imprinting

When a character or creature believes someone else is its mother, or something/one important to them.

Name Space:
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Page Type:
Trope
Imprinting is the psychological condition where an animal (usually seen with ducks or turkeys) will follow the first moving object it sees, believing it to be its mother. Mistakes happen, naturally, as there have been times where ducklings have followed cars, plastic bags, humans (who used this to experiment on the full aspects of imprinting) or, in some cases, its own brothers or sisters.

However, in this case, the imprinting is done by one character of the story, or one creature, onto another creature/person, be it the protagonist, antagonist, a minor character, etc.

It is also prudent to point out that this is not just imprinting on someone as a mother. Any example of an imprinting can be included here, so long as the same general concept remains present.

Examples:

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
  • Ranma One Half The Phoenix Mountain tribe can imprison people in eggs--when the egg is "hatched", the victim imprints on the first person they see and will obey their instructions. But the one plot-important person this happens to is Shampoo, and the first person she sees is...herself in a mirror.
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[[folder:Comics]] [[/folder]]

[[folder:Film]]
  • In Young Frankenstein, the monster imprints on Dr Frankenstein and considers him to be his mother, even running to him for a comforting hug in one scene.
  • An infant T-Rex imprinted upon the entire main cast of the Land Before Time series in one of the movies as its mothers. Given that throughout the series, "Sharptooth" dinosaurs are anything *but* friendly, this is quite amusing.
  • Invoked in Jurassic Park, where Hammond insists on being at every hatching so the baby dinos will imprint on him.
  • Toy Story: In part 2, after Mr. Potato Head saves their lives, the LGM refer to him as "Daddy!" and form a strong, child-like attachment to him. In part 3, they return the favor, and in response he draws them up in his arms, calling them "my boys!"
  • Sid in Ice Age 3, to the extent that he even refers to himself as a "Momma" because of the imprinting of the baby dinos on him.
  • Heart imprints as Umasou's father in You are Umasou.
  • The movie Fly Away Home is about a girl who has a flock of geese imprint on her, so in order to teach them to fly properly, she has to learn to fly an ultralight.
  • The Disney film The Grey Daschund gives us a puppy Great Dane that imprints upon a dachshund bitch and her litter, thinking he's a dachshund too. Hilarity Ensues.
  • The Hand That Rocks The Cradle had the evil nanny attempting this with the youngest child (an infant) in her charge, primarily by way of breast-feeding (unbeknownst to, and unauthorized by, the mother) which leads to the baby rejecting his own mother's milk, and the bonding that comes with that. The whole premise of the movie was the nanny trying to steal the children of a woman she blames for her miscarriage and subsequent hysterectomy.
  • The film AI Artificial Intelligence has the "mecha" (android) David, designed to be like a human child, going through an "imprinting sequence" which makes him recognize his new owner as his mother--irreversibly so, and with all the emotions that entails.
  • In Milo And Otis, when Gloria's chick hatches, it thinks Otis is it's mommy. Otis finally rids himself of the chick when he shows it how rough and tumble a "real dog" has to be. The chick doesn't like it and immediately runs off to find it's real mother.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Literature]]
  • Probably one of the most popular cases, Twilight gives us Jacob Black, who imprints himself on Bella's and Edward's daughter (though, as for why, it's pretty vague).
    • The werewolf characters in general do this to various people after New Moon.
  • Robert Anton Wilson puts forth the theory of sexual imprinting in his Shrodinger's Cat Trilogy- that whatever someone's earliest sexual experiences are like leads them to seek that out most in future- e.g. with another race, same-sex attraction, kink, etc.
  • In the Dragonriders Of Pern series, newly-hatched dragons, fire lizards, or watchweyrs are subject to imprinting ("impression") upon the first human with which they establish a psychic link.
  • Dr. Seuss' Horton Hatches The Egg. Justified in that sitting on the egg somehow changed its DNA into a birdephant; so in a sense Horton is partially its biological mother.
  • Septimus Heap's dragon Spit Fyre.
  • In the short story "Thief, Thief!" by Mary Catelli, the thief is in the dragon's lair when an egg hatchs, and the baby dragon imprints on her.
  • The Inheritance Cycle slightly averts this. Rather than the dragon bonding to the first person it sees, it bonds to the first person who touches it. However, the dragon hatches in the presence of this person on purpose, so YMMV.
  • The entire plot of "Are You My Mother" by P.D Eastman is a newly-hatched bird trying to find his mother. In one scene, he thinks a power shovel is his mother.
  • The bird kids do this to the heroine of The Lake House by James Patterson.
  • In Jhereg, when Loiosh hatches and Vlad comforts him, the newborn jhereg mentally addresses him as "Mama". Vlad tries to correct this, as he'd rather be "Daddy", but Loiosh goes right on calling him "Mama" until he grows up and switches to "Boss".
  • Dinotopia shows workers at the dinosaur hatchery using hand puppets to ensure that hatchlings imprint on the correct species (i.e. that of the mother).
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
  • In the 2009 series V-2009, Anna is able to do this with Ryan's half-V, half-human child, by giving the infant a disease that causes her pain unless she receives Anna's bliss. She had at that point already killed the baby's real mother.
  • An Emmy-winning episode of PBS's Nature documented a naturalist's experiences raising a brood of wild turkeys which had imprinted on him.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Real Life]]
  • Naturally, many birds imprint on the first thing they see as its mother, which was experimented on by Konrad Lorenz, in his iconic picture showing him walking through some grass with three ducklings following him closely.
  • In some cases, many animals (and in many cases, some humans) will "adopt" an abandoned baby animal, even if it is a member of its natural enemy-predator, resulting in the animal growing to think of its savior as its mother. Whether it be a bear growing to be a pet to some people, or a mother dog nursing piglets.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Tabletop RP Gs]]
  • Dungeons And Dragons, Dragon magazine #50 article "Hatching is just the beginning". When a dragon egg hatches, the hatchling will imprint on the first creature it sees after birth, considering the creature to be its mother. It will attempt to copy its "mother"'s actions.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Video Games]]
  • Metroid has a rather heartwarming example, where Samus, in the events of Metroid II, has been sent to exterminate all Metroids. Upon arrival at the location of the last Metroid, she finds only an egg, which promptly hatches, revealing a baby Metroid, who imprints itself on her as its mother.
  • This can happen in Nethack, if you're carrying a monster egg in your inventory and it hatches, leading to the newborn monster being tame. If you're male, this only has a 50% chance to happen ("The identity of one's father is learned, not innate").
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Web Original]]
  • The Super Mario World cartoon and Youtube Poop phrase of the same name played with this, in which Luigi fulfilled the parent figure for an infant Yoshi.

[[folder:Western Animation]]
  • In Tom And Jerry cartoons, it is very common for a duckling or other bird to imprint on Tom or Jerry, who will then invariably try to get rid of it. One example is "The Egg and Jerry", where a woodpecker egg rolls into Jerry's home and hatches there. Jerry does eventually convince the chick that he is not its mother.
  • In the Pokemon 4Kids cartoon, Misty became a mother to Togepi after it hatched from its egg.
  • In the episode "That Darn Gator" of the {{Sam & Max}} cartoon, Max fishes a baby alligator out of a toilet and it imprints on him.
  • In the Classic Disney Short Don's Fountain of Youth two alligator eggs hatch near Donald Duck and think he's his mother. The real mother gator takes them back but will not go near her until she starts quacking.
  • In The Regular Show, in the episode "A Bunch Of Baby Ducks", the ducks imprints on Rigby.
  • In an episode of Curious George, George sits on a duck's nest and the first baby that hatches thinks he is its mother.
  • In one episode of Fantastic Four Worlds Greatest Heroes, the Mole Man attempts to be the first thing Giganto's babies see, so they will obey his every command. Invisible Woman renders him invisible just as they hatch.
  • My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic did this, with Twilight Sparkle hatching Spike. Their bond seems to be more like brother-sister/assistant-boss, as opposed to mother-son.
    • Peewee the Phoenix also imprinted on Spike upon hatching in the episode "Dragon Quest." As of "Just For Sidekicks," Peewee has been returned to his parents.
  • In the Jonny Quest episode "Attack of the Tree People," after their ship explodes Jonny, Hadji and Bandit wash up on an island beach. While Bandit is lying on the beach a number of baby sea turtles hatch out of the sand and start following him around. Jonny says that the turtles think that Bandit is their mother.
  • In Regular Show, Rigby accidentally imprints a family of ducklings, resulting in them learning from his (less than stellar) example most of the episode before they're returned to their real mother.
  • In Godzilla The Series, the title character imprints on Nick believing him to be his father.
[[/folder]]
Community Feedback Replies: 52
  • March 17, 2012
    Telcontar
    The Twilight one isn't an example, since Jacob doesn't exactly consider Reneesme to be his mother. It's a romantic one, rather than p/maternal or whatever the term is.
    • In Tom And Jerry cartoons it is very common for a duckling or other bird to imprint on Tom or Jerry, who will then invariably try to get rid of it. One example is "The Egg and Jerry", where a woodpecker egg rolls into Jerry's home and hatches there. Jerry does eventually convince the chick that he is not its mother.

    • In Young Frankenstein (I don't know about the original), the monster imprints on Dr Frankenstein and considers him to be his mother, even running to him for a comforting hug in one scene.
  • March 17, 2012
    Rytex
    Well, this I forgot to add. It's not imprinting on someone or something as its mother, but rather just imprinting on it for whatever reason. So, any form of imprinting seen in media. Do you get what I'm saying (I'm having a hard time explaining this)? Any time a character imprints himself/herself/itself onto something/someone else, put it here.
  • March 17, 2012
    Telcontar
    Oh, I see; then Jacob is an example. Can't think of any more at the moment.
  • March 17, 2012
    Duncan
    Robert Anton Wilson puts forth the theory of sexual imprinting in his Shrodinger's Cat Trilogy- that whatever someone's earliest sexual experiences are like leads them to seek that out most in future- e.g. with another race, same-sex attraction, kink, etc.
  • March 17, 2012
    TBeholder
    Imprinted Improperly?
  • March 17, 2012
    Rytex
    No. This doesn;t matter whether it is properly, improperly, or half-properly if that's even possible. If there's any form of imprinting involved, throw it in.
  • March 17, 2012
    TheHandle
    • The entire plot of AI hinges on the robot kid imprinting on his mother (well, his female owner at any rate): the process can only be reversed by the robot's destruction. She can't bring herself to do it, so she abandons him in a wood, Grimm tales style. End of prologue.

  • March 17, 2012
    SharleeD
    • In the Dragonriders Of Pern series, newly-hatched dragons, fire lizards, or watchweyrs are subject to imprinting ("impression") upon the first human with which they establish a psychic link.

  • March 17, 2012
    Arivne
    @Rytex/OP: We had this on YKTTW starting in August 2011 as Imprinted Parent. You can mine it for examples and text.
  • March 18, 2012
    Rytex
    Thanks. I'll mine it when I can.
  • March 18, 2012
    MorganWick
    "This doesn;t matter whether it is properly, improperly, or half-properly if that's even possible. If there's any form of imprinting involved, throw it in."

    Sounds PSOC to me.
  • March 19, 2012
    Rytex
    PSOC?
  • March 19, 2012
    Rytex
    Imprinted Parent has been mined, all examples have been added.
  • March 19, 2012
    Rytex
    What does PSOC mean, by chance?
  • March 20, 2012
    Arivne
    ^ @Rytex: It's short for People Sit On Chairs.
  • March 20, 2012
    Telcontar
    It's not Chairs; Chairs is about when it's meaningless, has no influence on the plot, is something to be ignored, etc.. It has meaning and it's a plot device. Being broad isn't a reason for it not to be a trope, and no matter how broad it is, that doesn't necessarily make it PSOC.
  • March 24, 2012
    Rytex
    Any other examples? Is it good? It's sort of a bump, but this does seem a bit short. Any ideas?
  • March 24, 2012
    LOAD
    Truth In Television for some birds
  • March 25, 2012
    captainsandwich
    I thought in media its any sort of bird not just turkey and ducks
  • March 25, 2012
    LOAD
    In media it seems to be any bird, but I'm not sure it that's true in Real Life. I think in Real Life it's mostly water fowl, but I may be wrong.
  • March 25, 2012
    Goldfritha
    • Septimus Heap's dragon Spit Fyre.
    • In the short story "Thief, Thief!" by Mary Catelli, the thief is in the dragon's lair when an egg hatchs, and the baby dragon imprints on her.
  • March 26, 2012
    Rytex
    Added two Real Life examples I found, as well as the two above. Any more?
  • March 29, 2012
    Rytex
    bump
  • August 10, 2012
    Arivne
    Western Animation
    • Jonny Quest episode "Attack of the Tree People". After their ship explodes Jonny, Hadji and Bandit wash up on an island beach. While Bandit is lying on the beach a number of baby sea turtles hatch out of the sand and start following him around. Jonny says that the turtles think that Bandit is their mother.
  • August 11, 2012
    Thunderchin
    This is begging for a Useful Notes section, as there are way too many Truth In Television examples to count.
  • August 11, 2012
    Antigone3
    Shows up in Dragon Jousters. Both Ari and Vetch/Kiron believe that a dragon raised from the egg by a human will imprint to a certain extent on that human. Vetch compares it to when he was allowed to hatch a goose and raise it as a pet.
  • August 12, 2012
    randomsurfer
    In the Walt Disney Live Action Film The Ugly Dachshund a puppy Great Dane imprints upon a dachshund bitch and her litter, thinking he's a dachshund too. Hilarity Ensues.
  • August 13, 2012
    triassicranger
    The Pokemon movie Pokemon Ranger And The Temple Of The Sea has May becomes Manaphy's mom (similar to what happened to Misty).
  • August 13, 2012
    polarbear2217
    The entire plot of "Are You My Mother" by P.D Eastman is a newly-hatched bird trying to find his mother. In one scene, he thinks a power shovel is his mother.
  • September 1, 2012
    Wildstar93
    To add to the Pokemon example, there's also Togepi seeing Misty as its mother as soon as it hatched.
  • September 3, 2012
    captainsandwich
    Shouldn't "Cartoons" be seperated into "Anime And Manga" and "Western Animation"?
  • September 3, 2012
    SKJAM
    • Ranma One Half: The Phoenix Mountain tribe can imprison people in eggs--when the egg is "hatched", the victim imprints on the first person they see and will obey their instructions. But the one plot-important person this happens to is Shampoo, and the first person she sees is...herself in a mirror.
  • October 8, 2012
    Clevomon
    Bump
  • October 10, 2012
    norsicnumber2nd
    You could add that many of the other wolf characters in the Twilight saga, from New Moon onwards, imprint on various people.
  • October 10, 2012
    WeAreAllKosh
    Two malevolent examples:

    Film

    The Hand That Rocks the Cradle had the evil nanny attempting this with the youngest child (an infant) in her charge, primarily by way of breast-feeding (unbeknownst to, and unauthorized by, the mother) which leads to the baby rejecting his own mother's milk, and the bonding that comes with that. The whole premise of the movie was the nanny trying to steal the children of a woman she blames for her miscarriage and subsequent hysterectomy.

    Live-Action TV

    In the 2009 series V-2009, Anna is able to do this with Ryan's half-V, half-human child, by giving the infant a disease that causes her pain unless she receives Anna's bliss. She had at that point already killed the baby's real mother.
  • October 10, 2012
    WeAreAllKosh
    (deleted)
  • October 15, 2012
    WeAreAllKosh
    Film

    The film AI Artificial Intelligence has the "mecha" (android) David, designed to be like a human child, going through an "imprinting sequence" which makes him recognize his new owner as his mother--irreversibly so, and with all the emotions that entails.
  • October 15, 2012
    Ogodei
    Another Friendship is Magic example would be Spike with the Phoenix chick Peewee.

    Toriko features the eponymous hero with the Battle Wolf pup, Terrycloth. Komatsu gets one as well with a baby Wall Penguin.
  • October 16, 2012
    saintdane05
  • October 16, 2012
    SharleeD
    Just to clarify, in Real Life this isn't universal among birds. It's something that's seen in birds that are mobile as hatchlings, so the juveniles can identify and follow their parent(s); in species that are confined to a nest as babies, there isn't really a need for the young to imprint upon a specific adult.

    • In Jhereg, when Loiosh hatches and Vlad comforts him, the newborn jhereg mentally addresses him as "Mama". Vlad tries to correct this, as he'd rather be "Daddy", but Loiosh goes right on calling him "Mama" until he grows up and switches to "Boss".
    • An Emmy-winning episode of PBS's Nature documented a naturalist's experiences raising a brood of wild turkeys which had imprinted on him.

    Commonly paired with the Egg Mac Guffin trope. Related to Oblivious Adoption.

  • October 17, 2012
    WeAreAllKosh
    About the proposed name change "Imprinting Improperly"--I'm assuming the proposed trope (according to the laconic description given) only covers imprinting that results in a mistaken belief by the imprintee, that the imprinter is their mother, father, etc. If this is correct, some modifier of "Imprinting" should be included in the title--maybe "False Imprinting"? Since "imprinting" itself also occurs, and far more commonly, between natural mother-child pairs.

    And should there perhaps be subtropes (okay, one thing at a time) distinguishing malevolent (done to deceive and manipulate the imprintee for the imprinter's own ends), benevolent (imprintee is orphaned, but needs mothering from someone), and maybe comical (innocent mistake, and Hilarity Ensues) false imprinting?
  • March 2, 2013
    Noah1
  • March 2, 2013
    lexicon
    The laconic doesn't sound like this is supposed to be about imprinting improperly, but any unbreakable bond. The OP even said, "This doesn't matter whether it is properly, improperly, or half-properly if that's even possible." Also Fly Away Home has a page that can be linked to. This has five hats. What are we waiting for to launch it?
  • March 3, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    ^ Question is, is normal imprinting between a parent and child tropable or People Sitting On Chairs? Since it happens with just about everybody who isn't orphaned or abandoned as a baby. Cases where it's not between a child (or young animal) and their parent(s) seem to actually be the stuff of a trope--be it a manipulative person trying to steal or improperly gain control over a child not their own; a caring person acting as a surrogate or adoptive parent for an orphaned or abandoned baby or animal (or an adult animal "adopting" a human child or baby animal abandoned in the wild); or an innocent misunderstanding that might be Played For Laughs; or some other fairly unusual-to-our-understanding situation, like the "imprint sequence" for the android "child" in AI, mentioned above.

    (Unless, I guess, a work is centered around the scientific phenomenon of natural parental imprinting. Would that be a subject for Useful Notes perhaps?)
  • March 3, 2013
    Sheora
    • In Milo And Otis, when Gloria's chick hatches, it thinks Otis is it's mommy. Otis finally rids himself of the chick when he shows it how rough and tumble a "real dog" has to be. The chick doesn't like it and immediately runs off to find it's real mother.
  • March 3, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    ^^ I see now that there was actually some discussion way above about whether normal imprinting between natural parent and child was or wasn't People Sitting On Chairs. I would suggest that would depend on how specifically it's treated. After all, any scene of a mother breastfeeding or cuddling or softly singing to their baby could be said to be "imprinting" (since these are part of the process), but also arguably Chairs. But if a work either mentions "imprinting" specifically, or is entirely centered on the parent bonding with the child (like that's the whole plot), then maybe it would be a trope.

    And surely the exceptions (people or animals imprinting on others not their offspring) are more interesting and tropey--probably should have a different, more specific trope for those at least.
  • March 5, 2013
    Frank75
  • March 5, 2013
    CountofBleck
    in the Pokemon anime, When Togepi finally hatches, it latches on to Misty, despite all of Brock's and Ash's efforts to hatch the egg.
  • March 8, 2013
    StarSword
    Literature:
    • Dinotopia shows workers at the dinosaur hatchery using hand puppets to ensure that hatchlings imprint on the correct species (i.e. that of the mother).

    And if I can manage to find my copy, I could scan it for use as a page picture.
  • March 8, 2013
    0blivionmobile
    • In Regular Show, Rigby accidentally imprints a family of ducklings, resulting in them learning from his (less than stellar) example most of the episode before they're returned to their real mother.
  • March 8, 2013
    Djanchorhead
    In Godzilla The Series the title character imprints on Nick believing him to be his father.
  • March 20, 2013
    Rytex
    Dayum. I really gotta keep up with my stuff more. 5 hats, so it's going up, but I have some additions to do first.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable