Decisions: Nourishment or Comfort?

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harry harlow.jpgUnlike many animals, infant humans do not instinctively imprint to their mothers, however, they do develop a bond. For many years, psychologists believed infants bonded to the caregiver that provided them with food and nourishment, and this just happened to be the mother. Harry Harlow proved this assumption wrong.

In the 1950s, Harlow tested this assumption using infant rhesus monkeys. These monkeys have a close genetic similarity to humans, so they were desirable subjects to study. He took these baby rhesus monkeys and separated them from their mothers at birth, and kept them separate. They had limited contact with other monkeys.

In order to test if nourishment or comfort was more important to the baby monkeys, he created two "mothers." The mother that represented nourishment was a metal wired frame that had a bottle sticking out of it to provide food for the baby. The mother that represented comfort had a soft frame covered in cloth and was heated, but provided no nourishment.

After placing the infant monkeys in the cage with the two "mothers," he found that the assumption that baby monkeys clung to the mother that provided nourishment was wrong. In reality, it was the complete opposite. The baby rhesus monkeys clung to the mother that provided comfort, and only went to the mother that provided nourishment when hunger pushed them to. Not only did the baby rhesus monkeys cling to it under normal circumstances, they also tightly clung to the comforting mother when there was a frightening stimuli, showing that the comfort of contact with a mother provides reassurance.

This research is the basis of the term contact comfort. Contact comfort is defined as the positive emotions afforded by touch. This was an important finding in Psychology because it helps us understand why touch is so important to us, and that we have a desire and need for it. By looking at these animals that have a high genetic similarity to us, it gives us a greater understanding of why human babies create a bond with their mothers.

Click here to watch video footage of the experiment

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Does the experiment suggest that the bond has to be with the mother? Why do you think that it is often the mother? I would trim the summary and increase the analysis a little bit more.

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This page contains a single entry by rauc0048 published on November 6, 2011 9:05 AM.

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