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Harry Harlow

Harry Harlow

“So far as love or affection is concerned, psychologists have failed in their mission. The little we know about love does not transcend simple observation, and the little we write about it has been written better by poets and novelists.” – Harry Harlow, “The Nature of Love” ,1958.

Born on October 31st, 1905, Harry Harlow was an American by nationality. He was a famous psychologist best known for his works on social isolation, maternal separation and dependency needs which he proved through experiments on rhesus monkeys. These experiments highlighted the significance of motherly love, care and affection in social and cognitive development in children. He acquired his college education from Reed College in Oregon. After that, he got a chance to study at Stanford University where he opted to study English. He did not perform so well at that subject, so he switched over to psychology, and, declared that he would be majoring in psychology. Harlow studied under the supervision of Lewis Terman who was recognized for the development of Stanford- Binet IQ test. He  received his PhD in 1930 and then obtained the designation of professorship at University of Wisconsin in Madison. When the university failed to give him a separate laboratory for conducting psychological experiments he, with the assistance of his graduate students, made his own laboratory known as Primate laboratory.

Harry Harlow conducted several experiments on apes and monkey for proving  his theories on memory, cognitive processes and learning in infants. Harlow set up a nursery for rearing rhesus monkeys as part of his experimental studies. He separated the infant rhesus monkeys from their mothers and put them in that nursery setup in Primate lab. This method of bringing up the infant monkeys was called maternal deprivation. He inferred through these experiments that there is a lack of social development and normal behavior in new born monkeys who suffered from the phenomena of maternal deprivation. Harlow’s studies highlighted the importance of mother child bond in the healthy social and cognitive development of a child. His research studies were entitled “Maternal Care and Maternal Health” which got published in 1950 in John Bowlby’s report sponsored by World Health Organization. Bowlby’s study also concluded that a mother is essential to a child’s physical and mental development. This study stirred up a lot of debate, so Harlow proceeded to study further by creating substitute inanimate mothers made of wires and cloth, respectively. He provided the wired inanimate mothers with food in bottles whereas the cloth inanimate mothers were provided with nothing. Harlow observed that the infants would get attracted towards clothed inanimate mothers, despite, that the wired mothers had food. This experiment proved that an infant monkey’s physical contact with his mother was essential for nurturing his social, cognitive and physiological health.

Harlow had been bestowed with numerous honors and awards, including the National Medal of Science, Howard Crosby Warren Medal as well as the gold medal awarded by the prestigious American Psychological Association. Harry Harlow died on December 6th, 1981, in United States.