Talk:Harry Harlow

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Pit of despair[edit]

The "pit of despair" was actually used to imprison baby monkeys for up to a year, not just six weeks, as is documented in the Wikipedia article on the device. This should be made consistent. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs)

The isolation chambers were used to completely isolate monkeys for up to 12 months, but monkeys were kept in the "vertical chamber apparatus" (re: Suomi) for much shorter periods. If you are aware of a source demonstrating something else, please post it here. Rbogle 21:34, 9 October 2006 (UTC)
Hi, I could only find that the monkeys were kept in the verticle chamber apparatus for up to six weeks, although in the other isolation chambers for up to one year, which I think is what Pit of despair says. The source I used for that was one of Deborah Blum's books, but she wasn't very precise as I recall. I'll take another look. SlimVirgin (talk) 22:24, 9 October 2006 (UTC)
In The Monkey Wars (1994), Blum doesn't say anything about the length of time monkeys were in the Pit, but she says they were in the other isolation chambers for up to two years. She writes: "The laboratory built 'isolation chambers,' cages that screened monkeys from seeing others, faced them against walls. They left young monkeys in them, alone, for three months, six months, a year, two years. The two-year experiment was tried only once: the monkeys, reported Harlow, were mentally destroyed. Nothing the scientists did — pairing then with friendly companions, stroking them, giving them extra treats — could make them even lift their heads." (p.92)
In Love at Goon Park (2002), Blum writes of the Pit: "Most of the chambered monkeys were at least three months old. They were kept in the vertical chamber for maybe a month, no more than six weeks." (p.219)
However, Blum also writes in Goon Park that Harlow kept the monkeys in the regular isolation chambers for up to one year, whereas she wrote in Monkey Wars that one set of monkeys was kept for two years, so I'm not sure I trust her figures, but they're all I have at the moment. SlimVirgin (talk) 22:42, 9 October 2006 (UTC)
I got hung up on the Harlow et al. "Total social isolation in monkeys." paper, so went back and looked again. Stephens cites two studies in which baby monkeys were left in the chamber for two years (24 months.)
Harlow, H.F. 1962. Development of affection in primates. Pp. 157-166 in: Roots of Behavior (E.L. Bliss, ed.). New York: Harper.
The other one is Harlow, H.F. 1964. Early social deprivation and later behavior in the monkey. Pp. 154-173 in: Unfinished tasks in the behavioral sciences (A.Abrams, H.H. Gurner & J.E.P. Tomal, eds.) Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.
These will need to be reformatted; the 24 months is well documented. If the article isn't edited tonight, I'll do it tomorrow.Rbogle 02:49, 10 October 2006 (UTC)

Everything that I have read indicates that the infant rhesus monkeys were subject to varying timeframes starting with 6 weeks. So while he's mad at you and it's not totally inaccurate Xnerd (talk) 06:02, 18 August 2016 (UTC)

Article lacks information on controversy[edit]

Something should be made of the controversy surrounding his monkey trials. Doesn't anyone else thing so? —Preceding unsigned comment added by NotUntilNow (talkcontribs) 04:59, February 22, 2007

I've added a bit to the lead. It's what he became widely known for, and we shouldn't pretend otherwise. SlimVirgin (talk) 07:52, 26 March 2007 (UTC)

single housing of monkeys[edit]

Deleted an assertion that single housing of monkeys with solid walls is still common (with a 1995 reference to a book about "what are the options." First of all, it isn't that relevant to Harlow, unless its shown there is more (or even the same amount) as before his experiments. Second, it is illegal in the UK and I have not seen it in the US for some time, although I have not been to any medical labs there. I know it has been illegal for Chimpanzees in the US even in medical facilities for at least a decade.

In the UK now, you cannot even buy monkeys alone, they must be sold in family groups so they don't undergo social trauma.--Jaibe 21:40, 25 May 2007 (UTC)

Hi Jaibe, we have a reliable source for the edit you removed, so I restored it. It says: "Some of the monkeys remained in solitary confinement for 15 years. A variation of this housing method, using cages with solid sides as opposed to wire mesh, but retaining the one-cage, one-monkey scheme, remains a common housing practice in primate laboratories today. (Reinhardt V, Liss C, Stevens C. "Social Housing of Previously Single-Caged Macaques: What are the options and the Risks?" Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, Animal Welfare 4: 307-328. 1995.)
Much of the footage I've seen from labs shows primates in cages alone. SlimVirgin (talk) 02:09, 26 May 2007 (UTC)
If this is animal rights footage, then obviously they would be targetted by the photographers. Also, animals that have undergone surgery are usually housed alone since monkeys are quite cruel to animals that are "different". --Jaibe 08:59, 26 May 2007 (UTC)
Whether they're targeted specifically because known to be poor operators or not, the fact remains that there is extensive recent footage of primates being housed alone, and to the best of my knowledge, they're housed alone in the UK after being imported to see whether they come down with disease.
Yes, in that case they probably have to be housed alone too (& certainly there are probably several monkeys recovering from surgery at any one time in the UK), but not isolated. As the article explains, the worst social isolation is when they cannot even see other primates (even seeing humans is some help.) But the law I think refers to routine housing, which I belive must now be done in groups.
Having said that, now that I read the paragraph again, it smacks of WP:SYN, so you were right to remove it. SlimVirgin (talk) 22:54, 26 May 2007 (UTC)
OK, I am working on that section now. I will move what I excise here, sorry I didn't do that the first time -- I meant to but accidently cleared my paste buffer & then didn't go back...--Jaibe 14:29, 27 May 2007 (UTC)

Excised text (by WP:SYN & for the sake of article coherence): Some of the monkeys remained in solitary confinement for 15 years[citation needed]. A variation of this housing method, using cages with solid sides as opposed to wire mesh, but retaining the one-cage, one-monkey scheme, was still a common housing practice in primate laboratories as recently as 1995.[1] -- also took out this ref [2] since I've added better / more complete ones, and this sentence: Harlow wrote that total social isolation for the first six months of life produced "severe deficits in virtually every aspect of social behavior." since that had been said in even stronger terms in the quote box & wasn't really relevant to the rehab topic.--Jaibe 14:55, 27 May 2007 (UTC)


The notations for sources cite MUST be consistent. It is not an acceptable format to use one format and then switch to another format. Changing it accordingly.

Thanks for pointing it out. These things tend to be evolutionary on Wikipedia. :-) SlimVirgin (talk) 00:25, 6 June 2007 (UTC)


The first paragraph in the "Surrogate Mother Experiments" says that these experiments were "conducted between 1963 and 1968," but the last paragraph says that "Harlow first reported the results of these experiments [on] . . . August 31, 1958.

Ileanadu 17:09, 1 September 2007 (UTC)ileanadu

Harlow's contributions to science[edit]

Since I've last looked at this page there's been a massive excising of well-documented, well-established contributions made to science by this man with no discussion whatsoever. Of course no deletion of reference to the suffering he caused, nor should there be! But this is the kind of blatant activism & destruction of knowledge that gives animal rights activism a bad name.

I've already blown two hours on Wikipedia animal rights stuff this morning so I won't fix this now. But I will at some time in the future. Will people kindly remember that just because you don't like an outcome doesn't mean you can delete it without discussion. If you feel that the science was later proved incorrect, find good, high-quality publications documenting this & explain the controversy in the page!--Jaibe 09:02, 28 July 2007 (UTC)

This info must still be in the page history. I'd be interested in seeing what it is you are referring to.Rbogle 17:25, 29 July 2007 (UTC)

I agree. I haven't read this page previously, but you have to put his work in context. I'm listening to a "This American Life" episode which starts out discussing Harlow and his experiments. According the radio show's prologue, early in the last century, psychologists and doctors advised mothers to not pick up, cuddle or kiss their children. See

Further evidence that this was the prevailing view of "experts" can be found at the Wikipedia article on Dr. Benjamin Spock:

Previously, experts had told parents that babies needed to learn to sleep on a regular schedule, and that picking them up and holding them whenever they cried would only teach them to cry more and not to sleep through the night (a notion that borrows from behaviorism). They were told to feed their children on a regular schedule, and that they should not pick them up, kiss them, or hug them, because that would not prepare them to be strong and independent individuals in a harsh world.

Whether Harlow's work, which mistreated monkeys, was necessary can be debated, but he undisputably contributed to our current understanding about parental attachment.

Perhaps this article is so controversial that it should have limited editing. Ileanadu 16:38, 1 September 2007 (UTC)

The article needs to be more explicit about whether any of his results are nowadays considered meaningful (i.e. whether the baby monkeys' need to cling is considered of any relevance for whether human babies need contact, and especially whether damage caused by isolation has any correlation with depression). Salopian (talk) 14:30, 14 February 2008 (UTC)

One thing that is conspicuously missing from the article is anything about Harlow's "The formation of learning sets" Psychol Rev. 1949 Jan;56(1):51-65. This was a seminal work, about the process of "learning to learn" and probably much more important than his intuitive conclusion that tactile reassurances are more important than visual ones to infant monkeys. Dpakessler 16:46, 20 July 2010


Has anyone ever investigated the outcome of this type of treatment with a different primate species? Jean Mercer 15:57, 11 August 2007 (UTC)

By "treatment," what precisely do you mean? If you mean the effects of environmental deprivation on psycholocical development, the answer is yes, and with many species. As far as other primates, environmental deprivation has been studied in other macaque species, squirrel monkeys, and chimpanzees. The definitive survey of these studies is probably Maternal Deprivation Experiments in Psychology (Martin L. Stevens, 1986.)Rbogle 18:43, 11 August 2007 (UTC)

Actually, Harlowe did NOT "undisputably contribute to our current understanding about parental attachment." Deborah Blum is correct that the conclusions he drew after many years of elaborately cruel experiments were simply common sense. A normally sensible person would have assumed them in advance. It's obvious that a monkey infant, or baby, kept in isolation for a year will be severely and irreversibly disturbed. Of course a gregarious, sociable monkey (or human) removed from his fellows and kept in a deep pit for a year will suffer emotional damage which can never be mended. Who could doubt it? Harlowe's experiments were not only disgustingly cruel, they were absolutely without scientific merit. Younggoldchip (talk) 22:12, 5 December 2008 (UTC)

Exactly. Like many soft-science researchers, this guy played the university game of getting grants, writing papers, making speeches . . . for no benefit but his career. To say nuturing parents owe him anything is like thanking Mussolini every time you take a train. May HH and his ilk burn in their own pit of fucking despair.


Your conclusion shows your ignorance please never talk again. As the "redpenofdoom" said "Please limit your discussion" (talk) 12:32, 29 January 2009 (UTC)

This is not a forum. Please limit your discussion to items specifically related to how we can improve this article. See WP:TPG. -- The Red Pen of Doom 14:18, 29 January 2009 (UTC)

Does this snippet really belong to the "Criticism" section?[edit]

See quote below...

"Harlow's research, though controversial, has provided insight into the behaviors of abused children and has improved methods of providing care to institutionalized children. While many of his experiments would be considered unethical today, their nature and Harlow's descriptions of them heightened awareness of the treatment of laboratory animals and thus paradoxically contributed somewhat to today's ethics regulations.[citation needed]"

Sorry if this edit has a weird format, I'm not used to editing Wikipedia. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 21:29, 5 October 2009

That's OK. (I moved this to the end and signed your post for you.) The answer is that the passage certainly can be improved upon, but WP:NPOV requires that both sides of a controversy be presented. --Tryptofish (talk) 22:24, 5 October 2009 (UTC)

Influence of Bowlby on early surrogate work?[edit]

This article states that:

In a well-known series of experiments conducted between 1957 and 1963, Harlow removed baby rhesus monkeys from their mothers, and offered them a choice between two surrogate mothers, one made of terrycloth, the other of wire. The studies were motivated by John Bowlby's World Health Organization-sponsored study and report, "Maternal Care and Mental Health" in 1950, in which Bowlby reviewed previous studies on the effects of institutionalization on child development.

But, unfortunately, these historical events were rather more intricate. See this recently published paper:

--Frakn (talk) 10:20, 19 October 2009 (UTC)

What do you propose to change? --Tryptofish (talk) 21:33, 22 October 2009 (UTC)

Not Jewish[edit]

So no one else makes this mistake in the future, let it be known that despite being born with the surname "Israel," he was NOT Jewish.

He graduated from Stanford in 1930. On Terman’s insistence, he changed his last name from Israel to Harlow because of concern about the negative consequences of having what appeared to be a Jewish last name—although the family was not Jewish.

— Preceding unsigned comment added by KevinOKeeffe (talkcontribs) 21:26, 4 April 2011

i can add one small comment here, i guess. this sentence:

"The change was made at Terman's prompting for fear of the negative consequences of having a seemingly Jewish last name, even though his family was not Jewish, but his last name would attest otherwise."

is awkward. (i'm being polite.) i'm not quite sure what is meant, so i didn't change it on the page, but here's a suggestion based on my guess:

"After receiving a Ph.D. in 1930, Harlow changed his name from Israel to Harlow. He did this at the urging of Terman, who feared that the surname 'Israel' would lead to the assumption that Harry was Jewish, and that that assumption would have negative consequences for Harry and his career."Colbey84 (talk) 02:36, 6 January 2016 (UTC)

Cultural Impact[edit]

Harlow's "bare wire mesh" mothers have been exaggerated in some quarters into "barbed wire mothers," though perhaps not extensively enough to meet WP's notability guidelines. A search on 'harry harlow "barbed wire" mother' does turn up a few relevant hits. The image of a "barbed wire mother" as metaphor for an unapproachable and destructive parent has the makings of a cultural icon, and may perhaps already be one in some circles, such as among practicing psychotherapists. It was just such a therapist who I first heard use this phrase, and exactly in the same context (discussing destructive parents); he then mentioned Harlow's name to make sure I got the reference. Just thought I'd mention this in case someone cares to research it, and for people like me who visit the "talk" pages. -- (talk) 01:57, 11 February 2012 (UTC)

Harlow's Findings Were Not New[edit]

Harlow's apologists have sometimes said that his troubling experiments with primate infants were necessary. The argument is that he proved conclusively that depriving infants of normal affection and social interaction can damage them irremediably. However, this had already long been proven--by Rene Spitz in 1945. For months Spitz observed the infants and small children in a foundling home who received no emotional nurturing. He concluded that they were damaged by this deprivation, failed to thrive, that some of them actually died from the inhuman coldness of their environment. Their need for emotional warmth and connection with caregivers or parents was proven conclusively by Spitz. Of course Harlow was aware of this experiment, and its outcome and conclusions. His own experiments with social isolation began years later. One is forced to the conclusion that these projects of his discovered nothing new in terms of human attachment, and were therefore completely needless. Younggoldchip (talk) 22:03, 23 February 2013 (UTC)

Hi Younggoldchip, and welcome to Wikipedia! Wikipedia's talk pages are for discussing the article, not for discussing if Harlow's findings were new or not. If you can find a WP:reliable source stating that Harlow's experiments did not find anything new, you could add a sentence about it to the section Criticism. With friendly regards, Lova Falk talk 10:03, 24 February 2013 (UTC)

Multiple issues[edit]

i'll try to be clear and concise. i'll probably break this up into more than one section. first...there's quite a bit of awkward wording here. a few i changed, more i didn't, because i either wasn't sure exactly what was meant, or i thought a change might be 'controversial' (given the 'controversial' nature of this page already), or both.

"Harlow's personal life was complicated."

this wasn't actually awkward; it's an opinion. i took it out. basically, he married, divorced, married again and she died, then re-married his 1st wife. that's not complicated. there's more complication in one paragraph of any gossip rag about many current "celebrities."

"One of the select students with an IQ above 150 whom Terman studied at Stanford..."

i assume Clara was involved in some sort of testing that Terman did (probably re: intelligence) at Stanford, but it's not clear from what is on this page. if anything, this could be where any weirdness/complication could be--that Clara was first a test subject of one professor (and possibly one of his students), then a student of a student of that professor, and then she married one of them. but that's weirdness/complication for Clara; not so much for Harlow.

"Her death led Harlow to depression..."

this just reads strangely. i know "it led to depression" is a common phrasing, but that doesn't mean it makes sense. i just get this mental image of her ghost taking him by the hand and leading him down some dark and smoky path. please.

"...and ultimately led to some of his best known experiments: the surrogate mothers."

"the surrogate mothers" is bizarre. i changed it to "the use of surrogate mothers," but it could be "the substitution of surrogate mothers" or something similar.
and really, given how "surrogate mother" is used and understood today, the whole thing should probably be changed to something like "the use of inanimate objects—like wood and/or wire constructs, and pieces of cloth—as substitutes for the mothers of infant and young monkeys."

"...the impact of physical contact between parent and child..."

again, not so much awkward by itself, but because every other instance of the "parent" is "mother." i changed it to "mother." if that's not accurate, then the article needs to include something about the experiments harlow did examining the relationship between father and child. (given what his personal obsessions and predilections seem to have been, my assumption is that he did none.)

"The tendency ascended from an early conflict..."

sigh. i changed this. and that's enough for one Talk section.Colbey84 (talk) 03:05, 6 January 2016 (UTC)


it's strange to have a picture of Terman, prominently in the "bio" section, when there's no picture of Harlow. without a picture of Harlow, i suggest getting rid of the Terman pic. if i'm out here to read about Harlow, i don't care what Terman looked like.Colbey84 (talk) 03:08, 6 January 2016 (UTC)


Two issues here:

1) the years given in the "biography" section for marriage to Margaret, death of Margaret, and re-marriage to Clara don't agree with the dates given later in the "Timeline"

2) reference #7--yes, it DOES mention depression and electro-convulsive therapy, but...well, okay, there are multiple issues with the source. first, i'm not sure it should be a primary source for this particular bit of info. this is contained in the last sentence that is even accessible from this source (and you can only see it if you select the "invisible" text and copy-paste it to another document so you can read it). second, the dates given here for the stuff in #1 (above) don't match the text with which this source is paired. i think the dates in the document DO match the dates in the Timeline, though. and finally--what kind of reference formatting is this?? what's with a "[1]" in the pop-up that's the actual link, and then almost nothing else? "and "key study"--it is NOT a "key study" of Harlow's. i'm not sure it's a "key study" at all.Colbey84 (talk) 03:20, 6 January 2016 (UTC)

More confusing wording or....something[edit]

"This alternative rearing technique, also called maternal deprivation, is highly controversial to this day, and is used, in variants, as a model of early life adversity in primates."

what, exactly, is used as a model? and how, exactly, is it used as a model of early life adversity? (esp. in primates, who would not, in nature, encounter anything similar--so what is "it" possibly modeling?)

"In 1953, his colleague, James Robertson,..."

whose colleague? Bowlby's or Harlow's??

"These procedures quickly produced monkeys that were severely psychologically disturbed and used as models of human depression."

again, what was used as "models"--the tortured monkeys, or the procedures? and if it's the monkeys, it should be more clearly noted, somewhere, that the idea of using animals to "model" human emotions and reactive behaviors has been, and is increasingly, controversial.

"Harlow concluded, however, that nursing strengthened the mother-child bond because of the intimate body contact that it provided. He described his experiments as a study of love. He also believed that contact comfort could be provided by either mother or father. Though widely accepted now, this idea was revolutionary at the time in provoking thoughts and values concerning the studies of love."

"this idea" -- which?? that nursing strengthened the/a bond, or that a parent of either sex could provide contact comfort? as i mentioned elsewhere on this page, there is nothing in this article to indicate that Harlow did ANY experiments involving the fathers of the 'test subjects.' and so, nothing to indicate that he "believed" what is claimed here.

"The monkeys in the experiment were deprived of maternal affection, potentially leading to what humans refer to as "panic disorders".[30]"

this is 1) out-of-place in the "criticism" section, as it is stated as just another research finding and should, therefore, go somewhere in the "monkey studies" section, and,
2) is....well, it's certainly not a word-for-word quote from the source given, and it's also confusing because the source talks about another researcher, doing different experiments, using different types of monkeys, so why is it thrown into the Harlow page at all?? (actually, i added the source info later, but there's still the issue of this sentence, where it is.)Colbey84 (talk) 03:44, 6 January 2016 (UTC)


increasingly, attention is paid to who (or what) provides the funding for medical/scientific/social studies. if this info is available, and anyone knows it, it would be good to have a section on where Harlow got his funding. it might help in understanding the focus of his studies.Colbey84 (talk) 03:48, 6 January 2016 (UTC)

Personal issues[edit]

if any study and/or commentary has been done/made about Harlow's personal issues and how they might have, or did, influence his focus/obsession it would be good to have at least a small section on it here. e.g., he suffered from serious depression around 1970, and shortly after began focusing on "studying depression" and designing enclosures whose purpose was to induce profound depression. i see there's a tiny bit alluded to on the "pit of despair" page, but surely there is information out there that discusses Harlow's personal psychological issues and his treatment of those in weaker power positions. (every once in awhile, i come across a person who actually makes me wish that hell were real. harlow is one of those. and, yes, that means i'm biased. but i don't believe i made edits, or asked for edits/citations, from that bias. if you think i did....that's what the Talk pages are for.)Colbey84 (talk) 04:00, 6 January 2016 (UTC)

Erroneous misleading paragraph[edit]

Below please find a sentence from this article that for my studies has no reason for being in this article. Harry Harlow Express exclusively in interviews that the differences in facial features while intentional had nothing to do with the deprivation studies and should be disregarded for the purposes of this experiment.

Note: for some reason I cannot edit this my tablet seems unwilling to participate in my endeavors. So if someone could please get this out of the article it would make me very happy.

"To investigate the debate, Harlow created inanimate surrogate mothers for the rhesus infants from wire and wood.[10] Each infant became attached to its particular mother, recognizing its unique face and preferring it above all others.[citation needed]"

Note all anyone has to do is understand the basic ideas behind Harry Harlow's experiments to understand that leaving this sentence in is in direct contrast to his assertion and results. If in fact the infant macaque gravitated towards a specific face good completely nullify the contact Comfort Theory.

Thank you

Xnerd Xnerd (talk) 05:59, 18 August 2016 (UTC)

  1. ^ Reinhardt V, Liss C, Stevens C. "Social Housing of Previously Single-Caged Macaques: What are the options and the Risks?" Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, Animal Welfare 4: 307-328. 1995.
  2. ^ 1976 Suomi SJ, Delizio R, Harlow HF. "Social rehabilitation of separation-induced depressive disorders in monkeys."