Harry Harlow : biography

October 31, 1905 - December 6, 1981

Monkey studies

Dr. Harry Harlow came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1930 after obtaining his doctorate under the guidance of several distinguished researchers, including Calvin Stone and Lewis Terman, at Stanford University. Dr. Harlow began his career with nonhuman primate research working with the primates at the Henry Vilas Zoo, where he developed the Wisconsin General Testing Apparatus (WGTA) to study learning, cognition, and memory. It was through these studies that Harlow discovered that the monkeys he worked with were developing strategies for his tests. What would later become known as learning sets, Harlow described as “learning to learn”.Suomi, S. J. and Leroy, H. A. (1982), In memoriam: Harry F. Harlow (1905–1981). Am. J. Primatol., 2: 319–342. doi: 10.1002/ajp.1350020402

In order to study the development of these learning sets, Harlow needed access to developing primates, so he established a breeding colony of Rhesus macaques in 1932. Due to the nature of his study, Harlow needed regular access to infant primates and thus chose to rear them in a nursery setting, rather than with their protective mothers. This alternative rearing technique, also called maternal deprivation, is highly controversial to this day, and is used, in variants, as a model of early life adversity in primates.

Research with and caring for infant rhesus monkeys further inspired Harlow, and ultimately led to some of his best known experiments: the surrogate mothers. Although Harlow, his students, contemporaries, and associates soon learned how to care for the physical needs of their infant monkeys, the nursery-reared infants remained very different from their mother-reared peers. Psychologically speaking, these infants were slightly strange: they were reclusive and had definite social deficits, and they clung to their cloth diapers.

Noticing their attachment to the soft cloth of their diapers and the psychological changes that correlated with the absence of a maternal figure, Harlow sought to investigate the mother-infant bond. This relationship was under fire in the early twentieth century as B.F. Skinner and the Behaviorists took on John Bowlby in the discussion of the mother’s importance in the development of the child, the nature of their relationship, and the impact of physical contact between parent and child.

The studies were motivated by John Bowlby's World Health Organization-sponsored study and report, "Maternal Care and Mental Health" in 1950, in which Bowlby reviewed previous studies on the effects of institutionalization on child development such as René Spitz'sSpitz, R. A., & Wolf, K. M. Anaclitic depression: an inquiry into the genesis of psychiatric conditions in early childhood. II. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child,(2),313-342. 1946. and his own surveys on children raised in a variety of settings. In 1953, his colleague, James Robertson, produced a short and controversial documentary film titled A Two-Year-Old Goes to Hospital demonstrating the almost immediate effects of maternal separation. Bowlby's report, coupled with Robertson's film, demonstrated the importance of the primary caregiver in human and non-human primate development. Bowlby de-emphasized the mother's role in feeding as a basis for the development of a strong mother-child relationship. However, his conclusions generated much debate. It was the debate concerning the reasons behind the demonstrated need for maternal care that Harlow addressed in his studies with surrogates. Physical contact with infants was considered harmful to their development and this view led to sterile, contactless nurseries across the country. Bowlby disagreed, saying that the mother provides much more than food to the infant, including a unique bond that positively influences the child’s development and mental health.

To investigate the debate, Dr. Harlow created inanimate surrogate mothers for the rhesus infants from wire and wood. Each infant became attached to its particular mother, recognizing its unique face and preferring it above all others. Harlow next chose to investigate if the infants had a preference for bare wire mothers or cloth covered mothers. For this experiment he presented the infants with a cloth mother and a wire mother under two conditions. In one situation, the wire mother held a bottle with food and the cloth mother held no food, and in the other, the cloth mother held the bottle and the wire mother had nothing.

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine