Harlow's Research

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  • Harlow's Research (1958)
    • Observed that newborns kept alone in a bare cage usually died but that they usually survived if given something soft to cuddle e.g. cloth
    • Procedure
      • Tested the idea that a soft object serves some of the functions of a mother
        • He reared 16 baby monkeys with two wire model 'mothers'
          • In one condition milk was dispensed by the plain wire mother
          • In the second condition the milk was dispensed by a cloth covered mother
    • Findings
      • Found that the baby monkeys cuddled the soft object in preference to the wire one
      • Sought comfort from the cloth one when frightened regardless of which dispensed milk
      • Showed that 'contact comfort' was of more importance to the monkeys than food when it came to attachment behaviour
    • Maternally deprived monkeys as adults
      • Harlow and others followed 'mother' deprived monkeys into adulthood to see if early maternal deprivation had an effect
      • Found severe consequences.
        • Raised with wire mothers were most dysfunctional
        • Those raised with a cloth mother didn't develop normal social behaviour
        • They were both more aggressive, less sociable and bred less than what is typical for monkeys - unskilled at mating
      • As mothers some deprived/ attacked their young, some cases even killed them
    • Evaluation
      • Theoretical Value
        • Showed that attachment doesn't develop as the result of being fed by a mother figure but as a result of contact comfort.
        • Showed us the importance of the quality of early relationships for later social development including ability to hold down adult relationships and successfully rear children
      • Practical Value
        • Helped social workers understand risk factors in child neglect/ abuse and so intervene to prevent it
        • Howe (1998) These findings are important in care of captive monkeys; we now understand the importance of proper attachment figures for baby monkeys in zoos and breeding programmes in the wild
      • Ethical issues
        • Monkeys suffered greatly as a result of procedures.
        • Species considered like human - so can be generalised, however, means suffering was human-like
        • Harlow referred to wire mothers as 'iron maidens' after a medieval torture device
        • Counter-argument is that Harlow's research was sufficiently important to justify effects
    • Critical period for normal development
      • A mother figure had to be introduced to an infant within 90 days for an attachment to form.
      • After this time it is impossible and damage done is irreversible


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