Species Self-Identification and Imprinting
In the previous chapter we discussed that the perception of one’s own sex is not always in agreement with the sex of the body. But there is an even “deeper” problem — it concerns one’s subjective knowledge about which biological species one belongs to.
No doubt most of my readers consider this knowledge inborn. But this is not true.
Scientific press sometimes report cases of nursing and upbringing of human children in packs of wolves, monkeys, and other animals. These children moved on all four limbs, ate the same food as the animals that raised them. And when people appear — these children did not recognize them as “kinsmen”, but on the contrary behaved with fright or enmity towards them.
In special experiments I brought up male dogs so that they had never seen other dogs up to the age of approximately 2 years old: I weaned them off their mothers before their eyes opened and nursed them artificially; they grew in isolated cages and had contacts with people only.
Their attitude towards people was fine, but when I made them meet with other dogs for the first time (even friendly to them), they got so frightened of these “monsters” that they fell down on their backs and stayed “paralyzed” in cataleptic poses! They could remain in such stupor for an hour or more! Only my caressing interference gradually returned them to their normal state.
Their attitude to other dogs changed radically when they suddenly realized that female dogs at the time of heat emit the odor of sex pheromones… (I.e., the sexual factor created conditions for accelerated process of socialization).
It turns out that these dogs… did not perceive themselves as dogs… They perceived themselves… as people.
As it was with those human children who were raised by wolves or monkeys — they perceived themselves as wolves or monkeys.
The matter is that the perception of one’s own species is not inborn. It is formed during a certain critical stage of an organism’s development through the mechanism called primary socialization (in contrast to the secondary socialization that may go on long and hard at a later age).
During the critical stage of the primary socialization, the so-called imprinting of the adult individuals of one’s species (usually they are one’s parents) happens. It is on this basis that the knowledge that one belongs to a certain biological species forms.
In the case of humans, this stage lasts from 2 to 7 months (see [1,7]). At this period and during about 2 years after it, the child’s psyche is extremely sensitive to disturbances of harmonious relationships with the mother or with the person who substitutes for her. According to many observations over children’s growth and special experiments with monkeys (H.F. Harlow and others; see bibliography in ), disturbances of this harmony (for example, a long absence of the imprinted person at this period or attempts to substitute someone for this person) lead to hardly reversible or non-reversible derangements of the child’s psychical development that have consequences even for the adult age. They may be psychological difficulties in contacts with other people, unsociableness, hyper-aggressiveness and so on.
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The mechanism of imprinting ensures not only the primary socialization.
… What mechanisms of education exist in general?
— Cut-and-try method.
— Conditioned reflex.
— Studying the experience of others through verbal (oral) contacts, books, radio, TV, movies.
— Imitation, etc.
But there is also imprinting, and it is not well known in Russia yet.
It is very much like imitation but the mechanism of imprinting works only during the corresponding critical stages of the organism’s development in childhood and its effect is much stronger.
For example, songs of songbirds are not their inborn calls. Males learn singing at an early age — when they are nestlings sitting in the nest and their father is singing nearby. They imprint the song but will sing themselves only after reaching the sexual maturity. (This concerns males. Females do not sing but react to the songs of male coevals as to sexually significant calls of the representatives of their biological species).
If the father does not sing near the nest, then his descendants do not receive the ability to sing and will become socially impaired. Their participation in reproduction will be distorted or not possible at all.
Sometime it happens that males learn a song of a different biological species and try to reproduce it as much as their vocal apparatus allows.
Thus, professor A.S.Malchevskiy — a remarkable enthusiast of his work, a wonderful teacher — demonstrated on lectures on ornithology in the university a tape recording of a male canary’s call. The birds hatched and grew up in a cage in an old woman’s flat. This woman was single and had no one to talk to except for her dear birdies. And they had no canary-father. When the young canary male grew up, he began to sing in pure Russian language a song in that lady’s voice: “Ah, what birdies, lovely birdies! Ah, what birdies, lovely birdies!…”
It is the same with human children: they listen to adults speaking, especially to the mother (or the nurse)… And then they try their voice. The adult’s speech gets imprinted and the native language is learned quite easily during the corresponding critical stage. To learn a foreign language for an adult is much harder: one has to use other mechanisms here, including memorization of words…
… But if the parents do not talk to their baby and it has no possibility to listen to the voice of its beloved person, then the baby does not learn to speak properly, and the native language becomes like a foreign language for him or her…
This is one of the manifestations of the disease which was widely studied in the Western countries in orphanages after World War I: children which are just fed and swaddled but are deprived of individual emotional care and attention — such children grow into asocial people, unable to speak fluently, and quite often aggressive. A special term was invented for designating this syndrome — hospitalism.
However, hospitalism is not necessarily the destiny of all children brought up without their mothers. It does not matter whether a native or an adoptive mother brings up the children. It is only important whether she possesses a full set of parental emotional features, plus certain scientific knowledge.
For example, the experience of the truly communistic way of life (realized after World War II not in the USSR “building communism”, but in Israeli communes — kibbutzim), demonstrated that common fostering of children without participation of their mothers can give remarkable results provided that the process of upbringing is organized right (see bibliography in ).
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Knowledge of these laws of development and upbringing of children inheres in the pedagogy of all developed countries of the Earth. But it was not available in the USSR and the child orphan institutions “produced” masses of mentally defective people. In the USSR this subject was “closed” from the public, i.e. was forbidden to discuss.
… At that time in the USSR there was not even psychology; there was just Pavlov’s physiology of higher nervous activity, which operates only with the concept of conditioned and unconditioned reflexes. According to this mechanistic (materialistic!) doctrine, behavior and thinking are but reflexes to signals from the outer and inner (bodily anatomico-physiological) surroundings. And all living beings including humans are not units of consciousness evolving in the process of the Absolute’s Evolution, but some strange living organic mechanisms: they live some time for some reason, produce descendants for the sake of continuing the existence of their species, leave for them (at best) some wealth — and die…
To introduce new ideas into such a stupid scheme was a difficult task; one had to fight for it under risk of political persecutions (“an attempt of undermining the basis of a materialistic worldview!”).
… I was the first one in the USSR who started to seriously discuss these problems in the scientific press (prior to it, there was only one mentioning made by another author). My publications caused a great positive response from scientists and doctors.
Nevertheless, now… I still hear on the radio that children in Russian orphanages still do not learn how to speak…
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The models of social behavior peculiar to a certain sex are also formed through the mechanism of imprinting. This kind of imprinting is called identification. Special critical stages of this phenomenon were discovered (see bibliography in ). The results of the research showed that a child needs, among other things, healthy contacts with adults of the same sex. (Boys need such contacts with the father starting at the age of 3 years old, and girls — with the mother — both before this age and after). These must be persons whom the child loves and respects, though they do not necessarily have to be the child’s mother and father.
Parents must know: your child unconsciously imprints your patterns of behavior, both good and bad ones. He or she does not repeat them immediately but will do it after growing up. Your child will use your turns of speech, emotional reactions, nutrition habits, will (or will not) smoke, drink hard, will adopt your professional skills, ways of spending spare time, your attitude towards nature, people… And only at the age of approximately 20 years old, he or she may start to analyze these patterns critically…
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Here is an interesting example of food imprinting.
Once my puppy got ill, and I decided to try to use garlic among other remedies: I gave him some garlic, but he did not want to eat it: distasteful! And spat it out.
Then I started to chew garlic cloves myself — especially for him to see. I demonstrated that I liked it very much, what bliss it gave me… He was looking at me, examining, tasting, spitting it out… But then started to eat it himself — just imitating!
… About 2 years later, when he became a grown-up dog I recalled that occasion and decided to find out how he liked garlic now.
To my surprise he was delighted with garlic: chewed it with pleasure, asked for more!
For sure, he was the only dog in all the Earth’s history that reeked of garlic so much!
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If we wish to help our children to become better — we should not only tell them about it but also show them patterns of our own right behavior.
Love in the aspects of tenderness, care, respect, compassion for all living creatures, readiness to help everyone in everything good, aspiration for knowledge, and diligence are the virtues that adults must adhere to and demonstrate to children.
… Sometimes it may be too late — the child grows as an egoistic, wicked person…
In this case one cannot manage without “extinction of vicious reflexes by methods of negative confirmation” (in terms of the physiology of higher nervous activity).
… In researches on dogs, I found out that, first, egoism and aggressiveness do not appear in all individuals under equal conditions (i.e. the main determining factor here is the features of the soul incarnated into a given body), and second, the mentioned negative features can be destroyed by “pedagogical measures”, i.e. suppressed through “adequate measures of punishment”. Namely, when there was a strong non-aggressive dog in the group who could suppress by force aggressive “tricks” of other dogs possessing such vices — the vices of the latter gradually decreased and eventually vanished .