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What is Baby Duck Syndrome?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2016
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Baby Duck Syndrome is a term used to refer to the tendency of computer users to prefer the systems that they learn on, and to reject the unfamiliar. In addition to applying to operating systems, this phenomenon applies to software programs, keyboard layouts, and other electronics. This concept has a firm basis in psychology, as many humans have a known preference for maintaining the status quo, rather than exploring new possibilities.

This technical term is a reference to the work of Konrad Lorenz, a psychologist who actually studied geese, not ducks, although his work could be generalized to ducks. He learned that when baby birds hatch, they "imprint" on whatever moving thing they first see, whether or not that thing is a parent. Lorenz famously got several clutches of goslings to imprint on him, and there are some charming photographs of Lorenz teaching the young geese how to swim, eat, and perform other tasks.

Much like baby birds, humans apparently imprint on whatever technology they are exposed to first. Someone who learns to use a Linux operating system, for example, will typically reject alternative operating systems, sometimes including other versions of Linux. Likewise, someone who learned to type with Microsoft Word might struggle with WordPerfect, a very similar program, and people used to the QWERTY keyboard dislike the DVORAK layout.

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Some people have suggested that the Baby Duck Syndrome can harm computer users, as it inhibits their interest in exploring alternatives. It can be very difficult to convert people to new programs, systems, and equipment, which can become a serious handicap. A Windows® user, for example, might suffer in a workplace which uses Mac® equipment. Baby Duck Syndrome also contributes to very set computer use habits, making it difficult for people to break out of the box, even when a new system or software program might be better suited to their needs.

One way to reduce this syndrome is to explore multiple options at once. People just starting out with sound editing, for example, might want to try several sound editing programs so that they do not imprint on any particular version, giving each program a chance. Other computer users simply suggest pushing themselves to overcome Baby Duck Syndrome, using unfamiliar and new things for an extended period of time to see if they can get over their initial sense of dislike.

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anon235497
Post 5

This must be why everyone posts angry statuses when Facebook changes a little bit. Or why I refused to switch to Facebook from Myspace until none of my friends used Myspace and it pretty much was get with the times or get left behind. Or why I refuse to switch search engines.

anon117144
Post 4

Doesn't this depend on what you use your computer for? If you use your computer to entertain yourself, this might be true. If you use it to get work done, trying something new frequently slows down the time it takes to get the job done. If you are constantly updating and improving your knowledge, it begins to be faster to do everything by hand or by snail mail.

now that I am retired, and it doesn't really matter how I spend my time, I am learning a lot more about my computer. For better or for worse, most people can't afford to spend an hour learning how to do a five minute job more efficiently!

anon117089
Post 3

I teach English in a computer classroom that uses Open Office and runs Linux. The kids hate the desktop and refer to the systems as "cheap crap." I always wondered how Microsoft had accomplished such strong brand loyalty among students. Maybe it was just Baby Duck Syndrome.

anon116180
Post 2

I grew up on a mac way young then pc almost all the way til college and got a mac with a pc beside it. They each have technical strengths but besides that, I prefer pcs because I can navigate them easier. Some things are just better in the way they are made, like mice. The track ball on the bottom is more accurate than the ball on top version. It is sort of like cross-training.

anon116015
Post 1

How true this is! I just never realized that it had a name. This happened to me when I learned on Word Perfect and then had to switch to Microsoft Word. Also, as a transcriptionist, converting from listening and typing to editing. What a wonderful thing to know I am not the only person in the world who has trouble in this area!

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