Don E. Gibbons, Ph.D., NJ Licensed Psychologist #03513
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Sunday, October 11, 2020

Understanding Fetishes

In certain species of fowl, imprinting is the mechanism by which young chicks learn to follow their mother. There is a certain "critical period" shortly after birth, generally lasting from a few hours to a few days, during which time the newly-hatched chicks learn to follow whatever moving object they see -- which, of course, is generally their mother. When the process is allowed to operate as it should, the result is that the baby chicks become imprinted on the mother, and learn to follow her lead as they grow and mature. However, the biologist Konrad Lorenz demonstrated that when the chicks are allowed to follow a different moving object during the critical period for imprinting, such as a human being, they will follow the human as though it were their mother. Most importantly, however, when they become sexually mature, they will attempt to mate with the human, and ignore members of their own species!

Ducklings Imprinted on Konrad Lorenz
Can humans be imprinted during a critical period, by pairing various stimuli such as pain with early sexual stimulation, leading to the development of a fetish for pain when they become mature? And what about other types of fetishistic attachments?  Obviously, we cannot conduct research on questions of this type, and the infantile experiences of adults with a particular kind of fetish cannot be investigated retroactively.  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association states, "Among the more common fetish objects are women's underpants, bras, shoes, stockings, boots, or other wearing apparel. . . . Usually the fetish is required or strongly preferred for sexual excitement, and in its absence there may be erectile dysfunction" (p. 569). But considering the variety of  fetishistic attachments which have been reported -- everything from the stumps of amputees to the softly blowing gases from an automobile exhaust pipe  -- and the difficulty in modifying such attachments once they have been acquired, it is at least possible to form the hypothesis that such attachments may have been acquired during a critical period in infancy by the accidental pairing of a stimulus with newly-awakened sexual responsiveness.

Do humans have a critical period for imprinting?

Therapy for fetishism usually involves corrective experiences to enhance the attractiveness of more appropriate stimuli, which may be incorporated into a program of experiential  hypnosis and reconditioning based upon a classical conditioning model.


American Psychiatric Association; Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2000.

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The Blog contains many other examples of experience as an art form, for the enhancement of human potential, the ennoblement of the human spirit, and the fulfillment of human existence.

See also the following print sources:

Gibbons, D. E. (2001). Experience as an art form. .New York, NY: Authors Choice Press.

Gibbons, D. E. (2000). Applied hypnosis and hyperempiria. Lincoln, NE: Authors Choice Press (originally published 1979 by Plenum Press).

Gibbons, D. E., & Cavallaro, L (2013).. Exploring alternate universes: And learning what they can teach us. Amazon Kindle E-Books. (Note: It is not necessary to own a Kindle reader to download this e-book, as the Kindle app may be downloaded free of charge to a standard desktop or laptop computer and to most cell phones.)

Gibbons, D. E., & Lynn, S. J. (2010). Hypnotic inductions: A primer. in S. J. Lynn, J. W. Rhue, & I. Kirsch (Eds.) Handbook of clinical hypnosis, 2nd ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, pp. 267-291.