Harlow monkey experiments | Individuals and Society | MCAT | Khan Academy


– [Voiceover] If you’ve ever been around young children, you’re
probably aware of the close bond that exists
between mother and child, and scientists refer to
this bond as attachment. But what causes this attachment? Why is there such a strong bond between mother and child? For years, scientist thought
that it had to do with food. That a mom’s unique ability to feed her child is what
resulted in attachment. But that seems a little cold and kind of discounts all the things that mothers provide for their children. For example, contact
comfort or the comfort that a child receives from
being held by their mother. In order to find out exactly
what causes this bond, scientists conducted a series of studies which are the Harlow Monkey Experiments. In these studies, baby monkeys were separated from their parents
at a really young age. Which is something that we might consider to be kind of controversial today. But these monkeys were
then given the choice to choose between two
different substitute mothers. And I should note now
that even though we’re calling them mothers,
we’re actually referring to two different vaguely
monkey shaped structures that were placed in the
cage with the baby monkey. The first alternative mother
option was the wire mother. And this was a mother that
had a vaguely face like shape on top of it and
then it had chicken wire that was kind of wrapped up
in a cylinder as the body. and in the middle of that
cylinder was a feeding tube. Which I’ll put here in green and so within the cage that the monkey is in, this is the mother that can provide food. The second mother in
the cage was referred to as the cloth mother,
and this mother was the same size and shape as the wire mother, but instead of having
exposed chicken wire, it had a soft cloth blanket
that was wrapped around it, and so this mother is the
mother that can provide comfort. So our monkey has been placed in this cage with two mother substitutes. Now, which mother do you think that the monkey is going to go to? Well, if you believe
that food is the basis for attachment, then you
would predict that the baby would go to the wire
mother, because this is the mother with the feeding tube. This is the mother that
can provide them food. On the other hand, if
you think that attachment is based on things like
comfort, then you would assume that the monkey would spend most of it’s time around the cloth mother, because this is the mother
that has the soft blanket, this is the mother that can
provide contact comfort. Well it turns out that the baby monkeys overwhelmingly preferred the cloth mother. Indicating that it’s
comfort and not the ability to actually provide nourishment that forms the basis of attachment. In fact, these baby
monkeys didn’t just go to the cloth mother, they spent a large majority of their time
absolutely clinging to her. In fact, when these monkeys
did eventually need to eat, many of them tried to do it while clinging to the cloth mother. So they would keep part
of their body wrapped around the cloth mother,
while reaching over to the wire mother to
try to feed from her. These monkeys simply did not want to lose contact with the cloth mother. They simply did not want
to give up that comfort. And over a time these
monkeys did eventually become more comfortable with their situation and they would sometimes move away from the cloth mother to explore
the rest of their cage. But they would always return
to the cloth mother afterwards, and because of this, we can refer to the cloth mother as being a secure base. And by that all I mean is
that the baby monkey was secure in the knowledge that the cloth mother wasn’t going anywhere. The baby monkey knew it could leave the cloth mother to explore, but
that if it became anxious, that it would still be
there when they got back. And so researchers
would say that this pure attachment the baby monkey
had with the cloth mother allows this cloth mother
to act as a secure base, which eventually makes
the monkey comfortable enough to explore the world on it’s own.

3 thoughts on “Harlow monkey experiments | Individuals and Society | MCAT | Khan Academy

  1. That experiment defies an explanation for half the people we treat who are considered EDP's (emotionally distressed people.) Most of them say their families were abusive to them in one way or another, and I've never figured out how someone you give birth to that you could also bang the person's head into walls so repeatedly at a young age that the patient acquired lasting traumatic brain injury from it.
    What the bleep makes you do that to your own flesh and blood, that you helped create?
    I'm a paramedic, and we treat all the forms of abuse on a regular basis. Yet to this day, I've never been able to understand what motivates a person to do that to their own offspring.

  2. I think it's terrible to separate baby anythings from their mothers, especially when I don't think they learned so much more that it was worth doing the experiment.
    But I like animals too much; that's why I'm a vegetarian. One of the reasons anyway.

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