Harlow’s monkeys - Growth & Change

30-Second Psychology: The 50 Most Thought-provoking Psychology Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute - Christian Jarrett 2011

Harlow’s monkeys
Growth & Change

Harry Harlow was interested in the formation of the bond between mother and child, and tried to assess the relative importance of the child’s need for food and its need for comfort. In a set of famous, but unethical, experiments, he separated newborn rhesus monkeys from their biological mothers and raised them in cages with ’surrogate’ mothers. The infant monkeys were made to choose between two different surrogates — one was made of wire and had a bottle of milk attached to it, while the other was made of soft and cuddly towelling but did not have a bottle. Harlow found that the infants spent most of their time clinging to the cloth mother, even though ’she’ provided no nourishment. In another experiment, he placed the infants into cages containing only one of the two surrogates. Those caged in with a cloth mother felt secure enough to explore their new environment, and would run back and cling to ’her’ when frightened by a loud noise. By contrast, the infants placed with the wire surrogate did not explore their cage and, when frightened, would either freeze and cower, or run around the cage aimlessly.


Newborn monkeys need warmth, contact and comfort at least as much as they need food and water, and this probably applies to human infants, too.


Harlow showed that baby monkeys have an unlearned need for contact comfort that is as basic as the need for food. By doing so, he challenged the ’cupboard love’ attachment theories popular with behaviourists and psychoanalysts, which stated that the infant bonds with its mother because she can satisfy its instinctive need for nourishment. He also argued that fathers can make equally good care-givers as mothers, a revolutionary idea at the time.







Moheb Costandi


Harlow’s research into infant monkeys found that babies don’t cuddle mothers as a bribe for milk, they really do like the affection.