Abusing and Killing Baby Monkeys Again: Harry Harlow Redux

The University of Wisconsin will again begin studies of depression Harlow-style

Posted Aug 07, 2014

Harry Harlow is well known for his studies of the effects of maternal deprivation and tough love on young monkeys using what he called a "pit of despair" while at the University of Wisconsin (Madison). A very interesting book by noted author Deborah Blum called Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection is an excellent and thorough account of the man and his work. Many people strongly feel that his research should never have been done, and many thought that it would, and could never, happen again. Sadly, they were very wrong.

I must admit that writing about this sort of unethical, unnecessary, and horrific research makes me ill, so I'll spare you the details. You can read all about this upcoming research project in an essay by Karen Dawn called "Baby-Monkey Abuse Funded by Your Tax Dollars" (the NIH will fund this research) and in another piece by Noah Phillips called "University of Wisconsin to reprise controversial monkey studies." Ms. Dawn writes:

"For the approved study, [the principal investigator and Department of Psychiatry chairman Ned] Kalin and his team will remove 20 newborn baby monkeys from their mothers. Standard practice in maternal-deprivation studies is to physically restrain or anesthetize the mothers, who would otherwise fight the removal. The babies will be housed individually for 21 to 42 days, then either individually or in pairs for the following year, without maternal care. During that year they will be intermittently exposed to situations designed to provoke anxiety and fear. For example, they will be exposed to a live snake. ... After a year the monkeys will be killed, and their brains will be dissected. A control group of 20 other young monkeys who will be allowed to remain with their mothers for that year will also be killed and dissected at that time."

She also asks, if "... they're just like us. If the emotional abuse of baby monkeys is similar enough to the abuse of baby humans for the results to be extrapolated, how can it be OK?" Mr. Phillip's excellent essay goes into more detail about the research protocol and the people involved. 

I'm shocked that this sort of research will resume, and I'm hardly alone, as it has generated unprecedented negative comments from all over the globe, including from other researchers. Some are unconvinced that anything useful will come from this highly controversial project other than more unnecessary and horrific abuse and the death of the tormented baby monkeys. 

You can send letters to the editor for Mr. Phillip's article here and find out more about Dr. Kalin here (see also). And, there is a petition you can sign here to terminate this research and University of Wisconsin alumni can sign a petition here

Once again, anthrozoologists would find this study and the widely varying attitudes to be a goldmine for research in human-animal relationships. 

Note (October 9, 2014): Please see Dr. Sujatha Ramakrishna's recent essay called "Why Testing on Monkeys Won't Help Kids."

Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson; see also), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation (see also)and Why dogs hump and bees get depressed (see also). Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistence will be published fall 2014. (marcbekoff.com; @MarcBekoff