Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Cycle of Abuse

"Ours is the first study to show that rhesus monkey females who are abused by their mothers in infancy tend to become abusive mothers themselves, and the first to provide experimental evidence that the intergenerational transmission of abuse is the result of early experience and not genetic inheritance," Dario Maestripieri, as quoted in Medical News Today referring to his 2005 publication of “Early experience affects the intergenerational transmission of infant abuse in rhesus monkeys.”

The tendency for the cycle of abusive and neglectful parenting to be transmitted across generations has been well documented. The authors report on 40 families who broke this family pattern. The mechanisms for change used in these families included reliance on a broad network of resources, a degree of self-differentiation, an attitude of realistic optimism, and the ability to marshal extra resources to meet crisis situations. The authors recommend further study of such exceptions and a more hopeful approach to the problem of abusive families.
R.S. Hunter and N. Kilstrom in the abstract of their 1979 American Journal of Psychiatry paper “Breaking the cycle in abusive families.”

Dario Maestripieri’s research on infant abuse is meaningless in any sense related to actual societal problems or how to address them. His “discovery” is just another among many that have consistently post-dated the publication of research from human studies and plain observation, as the 1979 paper above makes clear.

His waste of public funds is one thing, but his research is cruel as well. At the most basic level, monkeys likely to abuse their infants shouldn’t be allowed to become pregnant. The fact that they do is a willful decision made by Maestripieri with full knowledge that infants are going to be born into an abusive situation.

Other methods he uses are also cruel. Four times a year, the monkeys are captured and undergo spinal taps. According to eMedicineHealth:
About 5-30% of people who have a spinal tap get what is commonly referred to as post–lumbar puncture headache.

[The] headache may start up to 48 hours after the procedure and usually lasts for 2 days or less.

The headache typically worsens when you are in an upright position and lessens when you lie flat.

The cause of the headache is leakage of the spinal fluid from around the puncture site.

Younger people and males have an increased risk of headaches after lumbar puncture compared with older people and females.
One retired anesthesiologist says, “I have seen patients (not mine, of course) suffering from spinal headache after surgery or spinal tap. Their pain is excruciating. Even the strongest pain killers like morphine cannot alleviate their pain.”

The monkeys' fear associated with Maestripieri’s quarterly roundup is probably intense. Mothers fear for their infants and for themselves. For monkeys who suffer from intense and long headaches or other undiagnosed maladies resulting from the stress of capture and the spinal tap there may be strong negative associations with the event that tend to make it additionally frightening.

I was led to consider Dario Maestripieri’s research as a result of working on a bibliography of primate cognition. I was intrigued by many of the recent papers on macaque and chimpanzee cognition by Michael J. Beran.

Though I am familiar with the Language Research Center of Georgia State University in Atlanta, I didn’t know much about Spelman College where Beran is a part-time professor in the Department of Psychology.

A visit to the Spelman website led me to reading about Kai McCormack, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, whose institutional webpage says:

“Research interest: Non-human primate development, particularly the effects of early life stress on behavioral and physiological outcomes.”

I searched around for more information about McCormack and found her “research” described in more detail in the Center for Biomedical and Behavioral Research at Spelman College’s Winter 2006 newsletter:
Dr. Kai McCormack, Assistant Professor of Psychology, comes to Spelman College from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Her research interest focuses on the effects of early adverse experiences on the developing rhesus macaque, the social development of maternally abused and non-abused infants, and the impact of early abuse on the developing hypothalamic pituitary adrenalin (HPA) axis. Her research findings have implications for predicting and treating the outcomes of early negative experiences in humans, and gaining insight into the possible precursors of psychopathology.
So, I stuck her name in PubMed and learned that her research amounts to three papers, all published in 2006. It’s odd that she was at Emory, home to the NIH Yerkes National Primate Research Center and managed to get her name on only three papers associated with torturing monkeys:

Maternal care patterns and behavioral development of rhesus macaque abused infants in the first 6 months of life. McCormack K, Sanchez MM, Bardi M, Maestripieri D.Dev Psychobiol. 2006 Nov;48(7):537-50.

Early maternal rejection affects the development of monoaminergic systems and adult abusive parenting in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). Maestripieri D, Higley JD, Lindell SG, Newman TK, McCormack KM, Sanchez MM. Behav Neurosci. 2006 Oct;12(5):1017-24.

Influence of parenting style on the offspring's behaviour and CSF monoamine metabolite levels in crossfostered and noncrossfostered female rhesus macaques. Maestripieri D, McCormack K, Lindell SG, Higley JD, Sanchez MM. Behav Brain Res. 2006 Nov 25;175(1):90-5. Epub 2006 Sep 12.

Here's a stupid bit of pr fluff about her work.

Upon seeing that she was associated with Maestripieri and his hideous career, I decided to write a bit about his redundant and worthless research, which I hope explains why I wrote this.

Seeing that Spelman is home to both McCormack and Michael J. Beran, I was once again struck by the absolute failure of our college and university system to provide moral and ethical guidance and to constrain cruelty. Apparently, discoveries like Beran's, about similarities between monkeys’ minds and emotions and our own, no matter how close, are seen by some as reason to hurt them.

The sad irony here is that McCormack and Maestripieri probably learned to be mean to animals and are perpetuating this cycle of violence by teaching college students that they too can and should follow their example.

What’s right in front of us is often the hardest thing to see.

Maestripieri’s most recent worthless paper (as of May 23, 2007) is this:
Intergenerational transmission of maternal behavior in rhesus macaques and its underlying mechanisms.Maestripieri D, Lindell SG, Higley JD. Dev Psychobiol. 2007 Mar;49(2):165-71.

Thirteen group-living rhesus macaque females that were crossfostered shortly after birth were followed longitudinally until they gave birth for the first time. Their maternal behavior was compared to the behavior of both their foster and their biological mothers, and analyzed in relation to the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) concentrations of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine metabolites (5-HIAA, HVA, and MHPG) measured in their second year of life. Crossfostered females were similar to their foster mothers in their rates of maternal rejection and grooming, whereas their contact-making behavior was more similar to that of their biological mothers. Crossfostered females with lower CSF concentrations of 5-HIAA exhibited higher rates of maternal rejection than females with higher CSF 5-HIAA. In a related article (Maestripieri et al., 2006), we reported that rhesus infants reared by highly rejecting mothers had lower CSF 5-HIAA in their first 3 years of life. Taken together, these findings suggest that early social experience and experience-related long-term changes in serotonergic function may play a role in the intergenerational transmission of maternal rejection from mothers to daughters.
On and on, the cycle of violence continues unchecked in animal labs around the world.

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