Since its first description, the imprinting phenomenon has been deeply investigated, and researchers can nowadays provide profound knowledge of its functioning. Here, I present how this peculiar form of early exposure learning can be used as a strategy to study animal cognition. Starting from imprinting as a social trigger for the domestic chick (Gallus gallus) and combining it with the unique possibility of accurate control of sensory experiences in this animal model, I present evidence that in artificial environments, imprinting serves as a rigorous test of the core domains of cognition. Whether basic cognitive concepts are already present at birth or whether they need extensive experience to develop are questions that can be addressed in precocial birds and still, following the tradition of the seminal works made by Lorenz, can inform on human cognitive processing.
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