History of Maternal Deprivation at UW-Madison
Harry F. Harlow was a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was the first director of the Wisconsin Primate Research Center at the University.
His earlier work investigated learning in rhesus monkeys. He would damage parts of their brains and then test their learning ability and report the results in articles like: “The effect of large cortical lesions on learned behavior in monkeys.” Science. 1950.
“Large cortical lesions” was Harlow’s term for the brain injuries that he inflicted.
In the late 1950s, Harlow became interested in the debate over the reasons that children suffered so significantly when they were raised without benefit of a mother or other nurturing caregiver.
This led him to take baby rhesus monkeys from their mothers at birth and put them in a cage with a cloth-covered surrogate mother and a surrogate made of wire. He attached a bottle of infant formula to the wire mother.
He “discovered” that a baby rhesus monkey prefers a cloth surrogate even if his or her food is provided by a wire surrogate. He also noted that infants removed from their mothers quickly developed abnormal behaviors.
When challenged about the value of his work, Harlow stated:
The only thing I care about is whether a monkey will turn out a property I can publish. I don't have any love for them. I never have. I don't really like animals. I despise cats. I hate dogs. [From a 1974 interview with the Pittsburgh Press. Quoted in Debra Blum, Monkey Wars, p.92.]
Harlow and his students then embarked on a long series of projects based on removing baby monkeys from their mothers to model human psychopathology. The deprivation of maternal care and the deprivation of normal social contact with other monkeys were determined to be reliable ways to create chronically anxious and fearful experimental subjects.
Over the years, Harlow and his students repeatedly demonstrated the unremarkable fact that repeated separations, partial isolation, or total isolation all had serious deleterious emotional consequences to young rhesus monkeys. [See Total social isolation in monkeys. H F Harlow, R O Dodsworth, and M K Harlow Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1965.]
In 1969, they reported on their invention of the Vertical Chamber, a device Harlow himself termed the Well of Despair. Young monkeys placed in this device, a deep metal pit with sloping sides, developed profound depression very quickly and spent most of their time huddled in the bottom of the well. [See: Apparatus conceptualization for psychopathological research in monkeys. Stephen J. Suomi, Harry F. Harlow. Behavior Research Methods & Instrumentation.]
The use of maternal deprivation at UW-Madison as a means of causing emotional distress in rhesus monkeys continued through the 1970s and 1980s. In the early 1980s, Ned Kalin, the UW scientist who, in 2012, has resurrected the use of maternal deprivation to create fearful baby monkeys, coauthored an article with two of Harlow’s students.
Social isolation and maternal deprivation of monkeys have not been used at the University for over twenty years. The last published paper that reports using these methods at the university may be "Effects of oxaprotiline on the response to peer separation in rhesus monkeys", published by two Harlow students, Bill McKinney and Gary Kraemer in the journal Biological Psychiatry in 1989.
Join us in our call to ban the use of these cruel methods at our university once and for all.
A little more:
Harlow and his students were the authors of many of the approximately 500 scientific papers – published between the late 1950’s (Harlow published the “Nature of love” in 1958) through about 1989 – utilizing isolation-reared monkeys (occasionally dogs) as models of depressed and anxious humans, especially children. [See Stephens, M.L. Maternal Deprivation Experiments in Psychology: A Critique of Animal Models. 1986. American, National, and New England Antivivisection Societies.]
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