Contact Comfort...Inspires Animal Torture?

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Harry Harlow began his studies of rhesus monkeys in 1930. He was inspired by watching the monkeys become attached to terry-cloths and throw tantrums if they were taken away. Harlow sought to find out why baby monkeys became so attached to inanimate towels.
The 30's through the 50's was a time period in which the common approach to raising children was to be unaffectionate and cold. According to an article from the Boston Globe, some researchers were convinced that humans love their mothers because they love their milk. This theory was called "drive reduction" because hunger was thought to be a driving force that needed to be satisfied.
Harlow devised experiments where he constructed two surrogate mothers for the baby monkeys. One mother was made out of wire with a steel nipple that gave milk. The other surrogate mother was softer with a cardboard and terry cloth body, but no milk. When the monkeys were hungry, they would quickly run to the wire mother and then run back to the cloth mother. Harlow concluded that since the monkeys spent more time cuddling with the cloth mother, love was more important to the contact comfort theory than pure desire for milk.
Harlow also performed cruel studies with monkeys that involved a spiked mother that would propel the monkeys off with cold blasts of air. He also created a black isolation chamber that hung animals upside down for up to 2 years and deprived them of contact with the world. These disturbing studies that Harlow performed prompted criticism of his chilling and controversial work. Harry Harlow.jpg

Slater, Lauren. "Monkey love." The Boston Globe. 21 Mar. 2004


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This topic is really interesting and it makes me wonder if humans have a similar connection with contact comforting. Especially with some people who do not like to be touched, do those people still feel more of a connection to their loving parents even though they may not have hugged or cuddled with them as much during childhood?

What an ingenious way to falsify "drive reduction theory". I wonder why it is that such harsh theories so often accumulate such an enthusiastic following.

I found Harlow's studies to be very interesting in the fact that the monkeys would prefer the cloth mothers as opposed to the mother with milk, but then when I thought about it, I wouldn't want to cuddle with a wire mother either. I did find his experiments a bit disturbing as well, it doesn't seem ethical to deprive an animal from any sort of contact for that amount of time.

Wow, obviously the original drive reduction and contact comfort parts are well known about Harlow but the rest of his studies are surely disturbing and (I would guess) much less well known. Things like this make me wonder how many other "great scientists" have practiced such cruel acts on animals and the act has either been forgotten about in light of their better more enlightening research or people simply not caring how animals are treated to "better the world". It also makes me wonder how people would view the scientists in light of their cruelty even after they know what good they've done. Interesting thoughts indeed.

It's sad to think that people thought that we were only attracted to our mothers because we loved their milk and that they could provide for us. I like to think that this theory was disproved because I have a much better relationship with my mother based off of other things than that she provides for me.

Wow... Funny how his stuff gets published in texts books about how much good he did in disproving drive reduction theory but the mean and cruel things he did are left out.

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