Harry Harlow was a psychologist who did a study on baby rhesus monkeys. The question was when the baby monkeys were scared by a loud noise would they go to the wire monkey that was equipped with a bottle to give them food, or would they go to the soft, terry cloth monkey that was warm, but had no food? When they were scared, the baby monkeys went to the cloth monkey. This was important because at the time the hypothesis had been that babies become attached to their mothers because they give them food. But when the baby monkeys were scared, they went to the cloth monkey who had no food. The baby monkeys wanted the comfort and warmth and they became attached to the cloth monkey. Now, when they got really hungry, they did quickly go over to the wire monkey to get some food so they didn’t starve to death, but then they went right back over to the cloth monkey, and that is where they spent most of their time, snuggling with her (Berk, 2013; Feldman, 2014).
The research that Harlow did has taught us a lot about attachment, but it was inhumane, and it would never pass today’s ethical standards. You will see this in the video below. As adults, the baby monkeys showed signs of being disturbed from trouble eating, to rocking back and forth, to self-mutilation. Some of the monkeys never recovered. Others, who were forced into pregnancy didn’t know how to care for their baby (Aalai, 2016).
Aalai, A. (2016). Revisiting Harry Harlow’s legacy: Cruelty towards monkeys. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-first-impression/201607/revisiting-harry-harlow-s-legacy-cruelty-towards-monkeys
Berk, L. E. (2013). Child development (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Feldman, R. S. (2014). Child development: A topical approach. Boston, MA: Pearson.