Imprinting

Waffle: Oh, imprinting!
Gordon: What?
Waffle: Imprinting: a bond where a baby meets its mother for the first time. Imprinting.
Catscratch, "A Woolly Adventure"

Imprinting is the psychological condition where an animal (usually seen with animals that come from eggs, like birds) 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 as long as the same general concept remains present.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Chi's Sweet Home, ironically the titular character, imprints Youhei and his family as Youhei's pet.
  • Heart imprints as Umasou's father in You are Umasou.
  • It has happened in Pokémon a few times:
    • In the third movie, a little girl named Molly imprints on the illusion of Entei as her "Papa" for the rest of the movie.
    • During the Kanto saga, Ash and his friends were fighting with Team Rocket over who got to keep the Togepi egg Ash had found, but Togepi went to Misty because her face was the first thing Togepi saw when it hatched.
    • In Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea, May is holding the Manaphy egg when it hatches, so the baby Manaphy considers her to be its mother for the rest of the movie. Brock helpfully explains what happened for the benefit of the audience.
    • And in the XY saga, Ash's Noibat imprinted on him after hatching.
  • Ponyo. Ponyo ironically becomes imprinted on Sosuke after she drinks on his blood.
  • Ai-chan ironically imprints on Mana Aida as a mother from DokiDoki! Precure since episode 8 for the rest of the series, sort of.
  • Ranma ˝ 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.
  • One story in Urusei Yatsura has Lum, Ataru, Ten, and Mendo sent into prehistoric times. A baby dinosaur hatches and imprints Lum as his mother, while the baby's real mom think Ten is one of her eggs! (Because his diaper is the same pattern as the eggshell)
  • Gunslinger Girl. Implied in the way The Handler is always introduced to their cyborg, with the girl waking up in bed, their memories wiped, to find the handler there. As 'conditioning' involves a combination of drugs and psychology, it would make sense to have this be one of them.

    Fanfic 
  • In Gundam Seed Bloodlines, the Extended do this. After her original "mother" dies, Cagalli has to get Stellar to imprint on her.
  • In Mass Effect's Crucible'', all turian and hybrid children imprint on their parents by their sight, smell and sound. Naturally, the first thing a child imprints on is its mother, but it doesn't matter who the father is. The imprint can be so strong that even if the child is separated from its parents from a very young age and remember nothing of them, it can still remember the smell. The process also causes a baby to react very violently if the one holding it isn't its parent or at least a family's member.
    • In the one timeline, Future!Gaius imprinted on his mother Shepard and Sidonis's family while Garrus, his real father was virtually a stranger. This prompts present!Garrus to try his very best to ensure that Gaius will imprint on him in this timeline. He succeeds, and baby!Gaius reacts to him even faster than to his mother.

    Films — Animated 
  • 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.
  • In Toy Story 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: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • Jurassic Park:
    • Invoked in Jurassic Park, where Hammond insists on being at every hatching so the baby dinos will imprint on him.
    • Brought back again in Jurassic World with Owen Grady and the four raptors (Echo, Blue, Delta, and Charlie) he's cared for and trained since birth. Although somewhat tame, Owen admits that they're more like barely restrained lions than hunting dogs, and he's the only person they won't kill on sight because of his mutually respectful bond with them.
  • 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 Ugly Dachshund revolves around a Great Dane puppy 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 A.I.: 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 The Adventures of Milo and Otis, when Gloria's chick hatches, it thinks Otis is its 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 its real mother.
  • In Jurassic World, Owen says that this is the reason why he's able to interact with the raptors on a semi-friendly basis. Bird DNA was used to fill in the holes this time around instead of frog, and birds often imprint on the very first person they see after hatching, so the four sisters view Owen as a Parental Substitute.

    Literature 
  • Probably one of the earliest Imprinting-themed fairytales are The Ugly Duckling, where the baby swan(cygnet) sees the mother duck, and follows her believing the duck to be his mother.
  • 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. In this case it is not the first person they see, since they'll plow through any number of people to get to the person they are supposed to Impress with, though Impression always occurs after the two make eye contact.
    • Fire Lizards, small creatures that dragons were engineered from, play this trope more straight. Though they are only ever shown to Impress on humans or other fire lizards.
  • 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 it's kinda recursive.
  • 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).
  • Discworld: The gnome Buggy Swires uses a special foul-smelling potion to do this to birds and use them as transport, first by stunning it with a headbutt, then making it breathe the fumes until it thinks he's its mother.

    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.

    Newspaper Comics 

    Other Sites 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & 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.
  • Chaosium's supplement All the Worlds' Monsters Volume III
    • A newborn Perneese Fire Lizard (based on the ancestors of the dragons in Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern novels) can become imprinted on an intelligent being. If they do so, any kind of mind-control magic used on them cannot make them attack the being they're imprinted on.
    • When a Tarn (giant black bird) hatches it will imprint on (and can be tamed by) any nearby creature. However, it will turn on its master if it senses weakness. It can be ridden by a human-sized or smaller creature if a saddle and goad are available.

    Video Games 
  • Metroid has a rather heartwarming example, where Samus, in the events of Metroid II: Return of Samus, has been sent to exterminate all of the eponymous creatures. 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").
  • In Fable II, a man asks you to help him collect the body parts of Lady Grey (an antagonist from the first game) whom he has fallen in love with and wishes to marry. Before the experiment is done, he explains that the resurrection spell comes with an imprinting measure where she will fall in love with whomever is in her line of sight within a few minutes of resurrecting. Unfortunately for him, you are the first thing she sees. That means that if you don't leave the room immediately, she will fall for you instead of him. The choice is up to you.
  • In Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, an optional sidequest[[note]]if you don't do it, you don't get the Power Cell for it, and there are a few Precursor Orbs and Power Cells you can't get without it, but that's it[[/note] has you knock an egg off a cliff. When you get back to it, the flut flut inside hatches, and imprints on Daxter, over the latter's protests.
    Daxter: Aaaaaah! I'm not your ma! You see any feathers here?

    Web Original 
  • The Super Mario World cartoon episode "Mama Luigi" played with this, in which Luigi fulfilled the parent figure for a baby Yoshi.

    Western Animation 
  • Catscratch: Waffle defines the trope when a baby mammoth that thaws out sees Mr. Blik as its mother.
  • 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 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 their mother. The real mother gator takes them back but will not go near her until she starts quacking.
  • 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: World's 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 the wild.
  • 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.
  • In the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! episode "Jeepers! It's the Creeper", a newly hatched chick imprints on Scooby. Scooby's attempts to correct the hatchling cause it to start barking as it follows Scooby and Shaggy around.
  • One stand-alone cartoon in Animaniacs involved a baby bird hatching from an egg, confusing a fighter plane for his mother, and proceeds to follow it. Hilarity Ensues.
    • A sequel to this cartoon repeats the same setup, only for the bird to imprint on Slappy Squirrel instead.

    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.
  • Some applications in Machine Learning can somehow be interpreted like that. You can train an algorithm with your voice or your face for the machine to recognize it.