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Sunday, July 02, 2017

“Harlow’s Monkeys”: 4-Minute Video about the Brilliant Psychologist Harry Harlow, and the Backstory

Re-posted by Nicholas Stix

Harry Harlow (1905-1981) was a psychologist who disproved assumptions in his field regarding basic needs in infant monkeys (read infant humans).

The conventional wisdom was that infant rhesus monkeys, when given the alternative of nourishment or affection, would choose nourishment, in the form of a wire “mother” attached to a bottle of milk, rather than a terrycloth “mother” with no milk. It turned that the baby monkeys preferred the warmth and comfort of the terrycloth to the milk.

A bonus to the following video is the voice. I love that voice.

It’s none other than the legendary Charles Osgood, the last of the Mohicans at CBS News, who only retired from his Sunday morning show last year at the age of 83, which was called, simply, Sunday Morning.

Charles Osgood was a throwback to the days when CBS News was loaded with talent. (And he’s been married to the mother of his five children since 1973!)





When I was college freshman, the most elegant, witty entry in my English Comp textbook was an essay by Charles Osgood.

According to the foregoing video, Osgood is still doing The Osgood File on the radio.






No More Wire Mothers, Ever
By BARBARA SMUTS
FEB. 2, 2003
New York Times

LOVE AT GOON PARK
Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection.
By Deborah Blum.
Illustrated. 336 pp. Cambridge, Mass.:
Perseus Publishing. $26.

While studying wild baboons in Kenya, I once stumbled upon an infant baboon huddled in the corner of a cage at the local research station. A colleague had rescued him after his mother was strangled by a poacher's snare. Although he was kept in a warm, dry spot and fed milk from an eyedropper, within a few hours his eyes had glazed over; he was cold to the touch and seemed barely alive. We concluded he was beyond help. Reluctant to let him die alone, I took his tiny body to bed with me. A few hours later I was awakened by a bright-eyed infant bouncing on my stomach. My colleague pronounced a miracle. ''No,'' Harry Harlow would have said, ''he just needed a little contact comfort.''

The phrase ''contact comfort'' was made famous through Harlow's experiments with baby rhesus monkeys at the University of Wisconsin in the 1950's and 60's. In her well-researched account of Harlow's life and work, ''Love at Goon Park,'' Deborah Blum describes how Harlow removed newborn infants from their mothers and housed them with surrogate mothers, some made of terry cloth and some of wire. When exposed to a moving toy or a strange room, babies with cloth mothers rushed to them, buried their faces in the soft fabric and relaxed. Their peers, with only wire mothers, shook in terror against the wall. Left alone for months with only wire mothers, they pined away, staring at the world with lifeless eyes, like my orphaned baboon.

The series of Harlow's experiments that followed revolutionized psychology in the middle of the 20th century. Until then, as Blum vividly documents, the dominant thinking in psychology was very different. An extreme position, made popular by psychologists like John Watson, held that young children should never be caressed, held or physically comforted by parents. Watson and later behaviorists like B. F. Skinner claimed that a baby reaching for Mom is simply reflecting an association between Mom and food. Early psychologists said that mothers who responded warmly to a baby's cries would produce excessively dependent adults, unable to function in American society. Despite the absence of supporting evidence, this view profoundly influenced not only parental behavior but national institutions like orphanages, which minimized contact between caregivers and children, and hospitals, which denied parents the opportunity to comfort their sick and frightened children.

When Harlow began his monkey experiments, a few sensitive researchers, like the British psychiatrist John Bowlby, had challenged behaviorist dogma. But because they based their claims mainly on anecdotal evidence, mainstream psychology, aspiring to be a ''hard science'' like physics, rejected them. Harlow's genius, Blum says, was to recognize the importance of using a humanlike animal to document thoroughly the positive effects of love and the devastation wrought by its absence.

Harlow demolished behaviorism's claim that infant attachment depends on food. Given a choice between a wire mother that dispensed milk and a milk-free cloth mother, baby monkeys overwhelmingly preferred the cloth mothers. He found that monkeys living with their mothers thrived physically, while those deprived of maternal succor withered away and often died, like untouched children in orphanages. He showed that to develop social confidence, young monkeys need peers to play with. Babies deprived of either mothers or peers became forever unable to connect with others. He also discovered that infant monkeys are terribly vulnerable to loss. Infants raised by mothers but later separated from them for months became listless and lost interest in other monkeys. If that didn't convince skeptics, Harlow went farther, placing baby monkeys alone in a vertical chamber called the ''pit of despair''; they emerged months later with all the signs of full-blown depression.

To learn how to heal people deprived of adequate love, Harlow's team experimented with many ways to help these monkeys recover from the trauma inflicted on them. Eventually they discovered that the wounded souls, if paired with a very young female monkey, could be slowly coaxed back into connection with others.

Harlow characterized the trajectory of his research as ''love created, love destroyed, love regained.'' That is an equally apt description of his personal life, which Blum skillfully weaves into this history of his science. A loner in childhood, Harlow began his career as an iconoclast, mostly ignored by his colleagues at Wisconsin. Unfazed, he built a laboratory from scrap lumber and inspired a cadre of talented students, including his first wife, Clara Mears. (The lab's address was 600 N. Park, Madison, Wis., but the careless handwriting of so many of its researchers led everyone to call it Goon Park; thus Blum's title.) Intensely driven by curiosity and a desire to prove the behaviorists wrong, Harlow was a workaholic who rarely spent time with his family. After Clara left him, taking their children, intense loneliness drove him to drink for the rest of his life.

''It was during those . . . sleep-deprived, alcohol-inspired days,'' Blum writes, ''that Harry Harlow first started thinking about the nature of love.'' He married again, fathered two more children, worked like a maniac, lost his wife to cancer, suffered from depression relieved only slightly by electroshock therapy and created his infamous isolated-monkey model of depression.

Blum presents the puzzle of a man who legitimated a science of love while failing those who most loved him, and the paradox of work that made baby monkeys suffer in order to sensitize people to the needs of children. Was his research justifiable? Blum focused on such questions in a previous book, ''The Monkey Wars,'' based on newspaper reporting that won her a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. Here she addresses them only briefly, saying we can honor Harlow's insights without approving of his experiments.

This neat conclusion would be easier to accept if Harlow's incontrovertible findings had produced a moratorium on using baby monkeys to investigate maternal deprivation and infant depression. Sadly, such work remains all too common. Blum's book left me wondering how Harry Harlow, a man 30 years ahead of his time, who consistently defied scientific convention, would view such research if he were alive today.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It doesn't work with black men--they're sociopathic (50%).The black woman gives them love (lol)and they reject it to go after white women (plural).
--Professor GRA