Harry Harlow is well known for his experiment on monkeys. He majored with these primates’ specimens to study learning, cognition and memory. His experiments involved the separation of the newly born monkeys from their mothers. He tried to investigate the significance of baby’s love. Since the young monkeys were brought up in diapers, he observed that as they continued to grow, they had a tendency appreciating their older diapers. Additionally, he found that the young monkeys felt safe while near their mothers.
He did this by scaring and torturing these primates by hanging them upside down. However valid the Harry Harlow’s experiment were, I feel that these experiments were unethical. Introduction Anytime a person mentions Harry Hallow, the first thing that probably comes to a person’s mind is: monkeys. So who is this Harry Harlow and what was his significance in psychology? Some people will describe him as the psychopathic psychologist who tortured monkeys in the name of conducting research into the obvious.
On the other hand, some people view him as the great psychologist who revolutionalized the world in the way they think, care and bring up their children. Well, whatever people’s opinion may be, are not so far from the truth. This paper will give the reason for the people’s opinions including my opinion regarding Harry Hallow experiments on monkeys. As earlier stated, he is well known for his experiments on monkeys. He majored working with primates to study learning, cognition and memory. Developing primates were of specific importance to his experiments to study the development of these learning sets.
Therefore, he came up with a breeding colony of the same in the year 1932. This provided him with regular access to infant primates that he reared in a nu instead of with their biological mothers. This was a technique that he referred to as maternal deprivation (Brecher, 1969). Hypothesis The hypothesis of this research experiment can be summed up in the questions: 1) Can animals think, learn and organize their behavior? 2) Can animals feel love and express it? 3) Is mother’s contact comfort of significance essence in the development of an infant?
Based on these hypotheses, he set out to prove maternal separation needs and dependency needs by using monkeys as his preferred experimental animals(Vaughan Bell, 2011). He found the key since his work showed us this mother-child relationship and bond could only be described as love. However, to drive his point home and teach us how to love our children, he performed some of the most disturbing, terrifying and chilling experiments ever seen in an animal laboratory. Was the price the monkeys paid worth to educate us?
It even led to him being referred to as a controversial psychologist who conducted a psychopathic study into the obvious. Methodology He began by establishing a colony of breeding monkeys. Once the monkeys were born, he would immediately separate them from their birth mother and rear them in a deprivation nursery. Unlike many medical and psychological researchers who prefer the white rat as an experimental animal, for Harlow rats had little appeal (Rumbaugh & Washburn, 2003). He felt he needed to use primates to predict and tell us more about human behavior as compared to rats.
He was the pioneer in working on such a hypothesis, and he was so determined to prove his point to skeptical scientists and the world in general. The separated baby monkeys were reared in cages and the cages diapers were put there for the monkeys to play with. These diapers were replaced every morning with clean ones. He made an important observation that as the monkeys got older they hardly let go of the old diapers, and they would fight to keep them. Needless to say, as soon as the monkeys were given the old diapers back, they would calm down (Rumbaugh & Washburn, 2003).
From there, he set out to prove and expound on the concept of a baby’s love for its mother. He experimented with love in a laboratory, something seemingly unrealistic and impossible. He designed an object that the monkey could cling two. He and his team (which mainly comprised of his long-term assistant Hellen and his colleagues Bob Zimmerman and Leonard Rosenblum) created two artificial and contrasting surrogate mothers for the monkeys; a wire mother and a cloth mother. The wire mum was fitted with a bottle of milk for monkey’s feeding, and the cloth mother was for contact comfort.
The monkeys were then allowed to spend time with the two mother figures for them to choose who to associate with. Harlow aimed to prove that monkeys would prefer the soft, warm, comforting mother with no food over the cold wire mother with food (Anderson, 1996). His findings were affirmative as the monkeys spent most of their time with cloth mother as compared to the wire mother who was their preferred attachment contact figure. In fact, the baby monkeys spent 23 out of 24 hours with the cloth mother and only 1 hour with the wire mother who offered milk (Anderson, 1996).
These findings proved that contact comfort was as important a factor as food in developing infants during a cold era of child rearing where physical intimacy was strongly discouraged. Love and support are crucial for development. A mother’s bond is far more unbreakable even than the primary need for food, clothing and education. Physical intimacy was discouraged on the misconception that such kind of affection would make their kids soft, weak, sissy and even gay especially with the case of boys. This explains why most parents were cold to their children and in general during the olden days.
Validity of the Research The above observation tempts a person to question the validity of Harlow’s research. The answer is yes. Indeed, it was, and the behavior of the baby monkeys clearly affirms to this. The hypothesis of contact comfort is appreciated throughout the primates, human beings not excluded. To Harlow, it is as important as food, rather more important because at some instances the baby monkey would be seen clinging to the cloth mother while taking milk from the wire mother. It couldn’t have been illustrated any better.
Furthermore, to confirm his hypothesis on the essence of motherly love on her infant, he put it into a test. He did this by conducting two subsequent tests; one involving a strange environment and the other using a frightening one. In the first test, the isolated baby monkey was introduced into a strange environment (one it was not used to before) and left there for some time while its behavior was observed keenly. After a while, the wire mother was introduced in the same strange environment. The baby monkey’s behavior was again observed under this condition.
Finally, the cloth mother was introduced and yet still the behavior observed keenly (Rumbaugh & Washburn, 2003). The results were as follows: on introduction to the strange environment, the baby monkey was timid and behaved in a very uncomfortable way. Similarly, this was the case even after the introduction of the wire mother. However, we observe a change in behavior as soon as the cloth mother is introduced. The baby monkey clings to it and is pleased with her presence in this new environment. What does this tell us?
This can be associated with kids when they are born and left the world all by themselves with no sort of a mother figure for attachment and comfort; they grow very uncomfortable and isolated with no sense of belonging. Unlike in the case where the mother is always there for the kid for support, help and more importantly love, the child confidence grows significantly knowing there is someone who got his/her back and is concerned with his/her welfare. In the second test, Harlow uses a frightening environment instead.
He does this by using toys designed to terrify the baby monkey. The same result is obtained as in the first test only that this one is amplified. The baby monkey not only runs from the terrifying stimulus but also runs to the mother (Rumbaugh & Washburn, 2003). This test proves that infants feel safe and secure around their mothers more than anything else. All these tests confirm that a mother’s love is superior and paramount. Reliability of the Research Although the validity of the research is quite unshaken, it raises some questions about its reliability.
Harlow may have shown us how to raise our children well but is every aspect of his research, findings and conclusion reliable? My answer is no. First and foremost, he bases his research on a pessimistic hypothesis that the best way to understand the heart is by breaking it. This is evident when he separates the baby monkey from its mother and putting it in a despair chamber leaving it all shattered and psychotic so that he can see whether it will appreciate love when offered. Did I say, love?
Then again just because the baby monkey has a tendency of drawing closer to the cloth mother, is this wholly because of love or convenience? Even as human beings, how many times do we run to other people just because we are sure they will be of help without necessarily loving them? In schools, students turn to the brightest in the class to help them out with studies. In the streets or parties, one is likely to associate with the strongest member for protection. In cases of being broke, the best person to turn to is the one who is well off.
In all those three cases, they don’t have to be people you love but rather people who are reliable. So we need to assess a situation well before drawing a conclusion. Reliability does not always equate to love. The same way a person you love can be completely unreliable and of no help to you in a certain situation. Assuming the cloth mother was a stuffed animal, the most accurate demonstration illustrated by Harlow is that an animal raised without its mother will prefer a soft stuffed animal over a hard one, after taking milk from the hard one (rather parasitic).
This makes sense of course because no one would rather cuddle a wire. Ethics of the Research The ethics of this research is all wrong. Despite the fact that it has a good ultimate goal that was to teach human beings how to raise children, it has a very sadistic approach. In the despair chambers, monkeys were retained for as long as two years hung upside down and in all perspectives this is downright brutal, perverse and evil.
Here Harlow shows the world how disregardful he is to the animals by his sick twisted experiments that were rather psychotic research activities to prove the obvious. This is not so far from vivisection. Conclusion and Recommendation In my view, to make the research more ethical, Harlow would have stuck to moderation. Isolating the baby monkey from the mother is okay but anything beyond that is pushing it especially the having them hang upside down, and the so-called rape racks is psychotic and mental.