Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Does a child really need a mother's love?: Harry Harlow's Monkeys

The other night, my husband and I listened to the below episode, Unconditional Love, featured on the NPR show, This American Life.

Many of you are already familiar with psychologist Harry Harlow's experiments. In particular, his research has had practical and viable implications and applications regarding the relationship between a mother and child. Particularly intriguing is that the following episode includes live and original audio of Harry Harlow himself recounting the details of his research.

There were certain segments of the show that struck me specifically. One such segment included the description of the baby monkeys that were exposed to "abusive mothers." Despite the abuse, these baby monkeys did everything they could to try to bond and connect with, and ultimately win the affection of, that mother. To me, this demonstrates how intensely and desperately a child needs and longs for a connection to his or her mother, and the influence that this need has on a child's behavior and even willingness to endure certain treatment and circumstances.

Of course, the implications of this research regarding the circumstances that surround adoption are equally profound and thought-provoking.

It's worth taking the 10 mintues needed to listen to the initial prologue. I believe you'll find it intriguing and certainly stimulating.

Mike and I also listened to Act One: Love is a Battlefield. It's basically the account of a couple that adopted a child from Romania.

Listen at your own risk. It most likely will stir and evoke an unruly swirl of serious emotion for some of you. It did for me.

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[from website]


Hard as it is to believe, during the early Twentieth Century, a whole school of mental health professionals decided that unconditional love was a terrible thing to give a child. The government printed pamphlets warning mothers against the dangers of holding their kids. The head of the American Psychological Association and even a mothers' organization endorsed the position that mothers were dangerous—until psychologist Harry Harlow set out to prove them wrong, through a series of experiments with monkeys. Host Ira Glass talks with Deborah Blum, author of Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection. (9 minutes)


Alix Spiegel tells the story of a couple, Heidi and Rick Solomon, who adopt a son who was raised in terrible circumstances in a Romanian orphanage, unable to feel attachments to anyone...and what they do about it. (27 minutes)


Dave Royko talks about the decision he and his wife faced recently about his autistic son's future, and whether he should continue to live with the family. (19 minutes)

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