Sunday, August 29, 2010

Monsters: Harry Harlow and Stephen Suomi

[From a photograph by Jack Smith/AP. In a November 14, 2007 article in National Geographic News, “Monkey Embryos Cloned, Scientists Report,” reprinted from an article by Malcolm Ritter in New York, published by the Associated Press. The caption reads: “Two rhesus monkeys—born of DNA taken from cells of developing monkey embryos—huddle together at a research center in Oregon in 1997.”]
We also discovered that 12 months of total social isolation from birth had even more drastic effects than 6 months [of total social isolation] on behavior in the playroom. Exploration and even simple play were nonexistent. Torn by fear and anxiety, aggression was obliterated in these monkeys, and even the simple pleasure of onanism [male masturbation] was curtailed. They sat huddled alone in the corners or against the walls of the room. The actual experiment was stopped after 10 weeks, since the control animals were literally tearing up the 12-month isolates, and the isolates themselves made no effort to protect themselves. These animals were maintained for many years and never demonstrated any vestige of virginal social ability…

A considerable number of our isolate-reared females were eventually impregnated by patient and competent feral males. When adequate animal assistance failed, we resorted to an apparatus that restrains, positions, and supports the female during copulation. Very soon we discovered that we had created a new animal—the monkey motherless mother. These monkey mothers that had never experienced love of any kind were devoid of love for their infants, a lack of feeling unfortunately shared by all too many human counterparts. Most of the monkey motherless mothers ignored their infants, but other motherless mothers abused their babies by crushing the infant’s face to the floor, chewing off the infant’s feet and fingers, and in one case by putting the infant’s head in her mouth and crushing like an eggshell. Not even in our most devious dreams could we have designed a surrogate as evil as these real monkey mothers. Harry F. Harlow and Clara Mears (1)
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... the lab team built what Harry called evil or “monster” mothers. There were four of them and they were cloth moms gone crazy. All of them had a soft-centered body for cuddling. But they were, all of them, booby traps. One was a “shaking” mother who rocked so violently that, Harry said, the teeth and the bones of the infant
rattled in unison. The second was an air-blast mother. She blew compressed air against the infant with such force that the baby looked, Harry said, as if it would be denuded. The third had an embedded steel frame that, on schedule or demand, would fling forward and hurl the infant monkey off the mother’s body. The fourth monster mother had brass spikes (blunt-tipped) tucked into her chest; these would suddenly, unexpectedly push against the clinging child. Deborah Blum.(2)
Harlow’s similarity to Dr. Cadman, Dr. Frankenstein, and Dr. Moreau is hard to miss. On one level, they made monsters, but of course, they were the real monsters. Harlow’s case is particularly evil. Dr. Cadman was trying to save his wife; Dr. Frankenstein was trying to imbue life into dead tissues, but Harlow’s purposes were trivial, and thus more monstrous.

No vivisector has been more defended than Harlow. The consistent claim of his defenders is that before Harlow demonstrated an infant’s need of nurturing, the medical profession was telling parents not to hug or express love to their children, and they didn’t. In the final paragraph of her novel-length paean to Harlow, fellow University of Wisconsin, Madison professor Deborah Blum writes:
And since we—psychology as a profession, science as a whole, mothers and fathers and all of us—didn’t fully believe [that babies need “companionship,” a ‘caring mother,” and need to be “scooped up into someone’s arms and reassured that the day is going to be alright”] before Harry Harlow came along, then perhaps we needed—just once—to be smacked really hard with that truth so that we could never again doubt. Let us remember the best of Harry’s contributions as well as the worst.(3)

But there is no “best” to remember. Harlow was a monster. He conducted macabre and hideously cruel experiments on baby monkeys because he expected them to respond just as everyone knew human children would have responded. There was no doubt that, in spite of Deborah Blum’s claims to the contrary, essentially everyone did indeed already “fully believe.”

Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst René Spitz (1887-1974) began his observational studies on large populations of human children in the 1930s. He described in great detail the contrasting effects of being raised with or without a nurturing caregiver. He termed the results of maternal and emotional deprivation anaclitic depression or hospitalism. He reported that children raised without emotional warmth were retarded physically and emotionally.(4)

Blum, like others who defend Harlow asserts that prior to Harlow’s studies, parents were taught to maintain a hands-off approach lest they spoil their children. Parents were taught, Harlow’s defenders assert, to let the baby cry, not to pick her up, and not to coddle her.

There was a time when doctors promoted this line of thinking, but in 1946 pediatrician Benjamin Spock published The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, which became an instant bestseller and is widely acknowledged to be the most influential source on childcare ever written. Microsoft Encarta notes that it “sharply redefined the course of child care during the baby boom after World War II.”

Here’s an excerpt from a March 16, 1998, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer interview on the occasion of Dr. Spock's death. Dr. Stephen Parker is co-author of Dr. Spock's Baby & Child Care.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Were his ideas resisted, or were they pretty quickly adopted?

DR. STEVEN PARKER: Well, they were resisted by professionals, who, I think, had a vested interest in the advice [they] had been giving for the last twenty or thirty years. And this is quite different. But it was embraced by parents immediately in droves at a level that people had never anticipated. [My emphasis]

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We just heard a little bit about the way he thought. Tell us more about his ideas and what was new and what was really important in them.

DR. STEVEN PARKER: Well, to really understand the success and impact of Dr. Spock you have to remember the context in which he burst upon the scene. Child-rearing advice at the time was an incredibly dismal affair. Parents were told don't touch your child, don't kiss them, don't hug them, feed them on a schedule, let them cry, prepare them for a tough world by not being emotionally involved. And he came to it saying, well, wait a second, trust yourself. No parent inherently feels that way. Do what feels right for you, and you probably won't go wrong. And he based it too on his ideas of the understanding of child development, which included the importance of attachment and the emotional relationship between parent and child, and most of all, children needed to feel loved. And if they felt loved, almost everything else would follow from there. That was revolutionary in 1946, believe it or not.

John Bowlby was commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) to study the mental health of children who were “homeless in their native country” in post-war Europe. His report, Maternal Care and Mental Health, was published by the WHO in 1950. High demand necessitated a second edition, which was published in 1952.

In 1952, Bowlby’s assistant, James Robertson, published the widely-viewed short and shocking documentary film, A-Two-Year-Old Goes to Hospital, which Anna Freud (1895-1982), Sigmund Freud’s youngest child and an early pioneer in child psychology described as a: “…convincing and brilliant demonstration ad oculos of the outward manifestations of the inner processes that occur in infants who find themselves unexpectedly and traumatically without their families.” (5)

To understand Harlow’s entry into this area of psychology, consider a passage from the 1962, WHO publication, Deprivation of Maternal Care: A Reassessment of its Effects:(6)
The conclusion Bowlby reaches in his monograph is that the prolonged deprivation of the young child of maternal care may have grave and far-reaching effects on his character and so on the whole of his future life; and he draws the corollary that the proper care of children deprived of a normal home life is not merely an act of common humanity, but essential to the mental and social welfare of a community. His indictment on the score of the nurseries, institutions, and hospitals of even the so-called advanced countries has contributed to a remarkable change in outlook that has led to a widespread improvement in the institutional care of children.

While the practical effects of Bowlby’s monograph in the realm of child care have been universally acknowledged to be wholly beneficial, his theoretical conclusions have been subjected to a considerable amount of criticism…. [My emphasis]
It is this arcane criticism of Bowlby’s theoretical claims by theoretical psychologists that prompted Harlow to enter the field of maternal deprivation research, not a concern for children since the devastating effects of maternal and environmental deprivation were already universally acknowledged. Harlow published “The Nature of Love”(7) in 1958, decades after Spitz’s seminal work, more than a decade after The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care became a best seller, and nearly a decade after Bowlby’s World Health Organization report.

By the time Harlow began his two-decades long series of grotesque and monstrous deprivation, isolation, and separation studies, the known effects on human children were unequivocal, well and widely known, and their prevention a matter of common practice.

Harlow began his diabolical experiments after “we—psychology as a profession, science as a whole, mothers and fathers and all of us” did know what children needed. In 1950, Bowlby observed:
The direct studies [of the effects of deprivation] are the most numerous. They make it plain that, when deprived of maternal care, the child’s development is almost always retarded—physically, intellectually, and socially—and that symptoms of physical and mental illness may appear. Such evidence is disquieting, but sceptics (sic) may question whether the retardation is permanent and whether the symptoms of illness may not be easily overcome. The retrospective and follow-up studies make it clear that such optimism is not always justified and that some children are gravely damaged for life. This is a somber conclusion which must now be regarded as established.(8)

Thankfully, Harlow is dead; he died in Arizona in 1981. There is good reason to believe that few people actually found genuine value in his work; it appears that it wasn’t his “discoveries” that people responded to. It was his persona. One of his very many students has remarked on the suddenness with which his work stopped being cited by other scientists after he died. Harlow’s personality was very strong, like Cadman’s and Moreau’s, and so, other scientists said little in criticism, even when they recognized the evil for what it was. “He would write about his experiments as if he did them with glee. It made my flesh crawl,” says his one-time student William Mason, designer of total isolation chambers, and himself a monster as well.

But Stephen Suomi, maybe Harlow’s most “successful” student, is alive and well and still torturing monkeys. Suomi is the Chief of the Laboratory of Comparative Ethology at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) in Bethesda, Maryland. NICHD is a part of the National Institutes of Health; Suomi is a public employee. His work with Harlow stands out in a field filled with routine cruelty.
… the accumulation of a vast body of normative information and a desire to investigate new and challenging problems led us [Harlow and Suomi] to the study of depression in monkeys…. Our earlier studies had duplicated, in laboratory monkeys both the precipitating situation and the subsequent syndrome described as anaclitic depression for human infants. However, it was obvious to us that mother-infant separation had both theoretical and practical limitations as a standard procedure for large-scale investigation in monkeys, and to achieve significant advances in this area it would be necessary to transcend the mother-infant separation model.(9)

The eventual achievement of a method to easily induce profound depression in monkeys was claimed by Suomi as his major achievement in his doctoral thesis.

A radically different approach to the production of depressive behavior in monkeys was made possible by a vertical chamber apparatus created by H.F. Harlow. This apparatus … is a stainless steel chamber with sides that slope downward to a wire-mesh platform above a rounded steel bottom. Depression in humans has been characterized as a state of “helplessness and hopelessness, sunken in a well of despair,” and the chambers were designed to reproduce such a well for monkey subjects….

Suomi then tested 90-day-old monkeys antecedently subjected to 45 days of chamber confinement and compared their subsequent activity in both social and nonsocial situations with two groups of equal-aged monkeys, one group peer-reared and the other group reared as partial-isolates…. [T]he chambered subjects consistently exhibited highly elevated levels of self-clasping and huddling, low levels of locomotion and exploration, and non-existent social activity. These behaviors were in sharp contrast to those of both control groups. Clearly, chamber confinement of a relatively short duration was enormously effective for producing profound and prolonged depression in young monkeys.(10)
Harlow and Suomi believed that monkeys and humans are very similar, mentally and emotionally. They believed that what they were doing to young monkeys was having the same effect on them as it would on young human children. And they were doing this merely to “investigate new and challenging problems.”
… It is possible to make precise measurements in this primate beginning at two to ten days of age, depending upon the maturational status of the individual animal at birth. The macaque infant differs from the human infant in that the monkey is more mature at birth and grows more rapidly; but the basic responses relating to affection, including nursing, contact, clinging, and even visual and auditory exploration, exhibit no fundamental differences in the two species. Even the development of perception, fear, frustration, and learning capability follows very similar sequences in rhesus monkeys and human children.(11)


Today, Suomi is studying questions like: do monkeys raised in semi-isolation bite themselves more than do monkeys raised by their mothers or with peers? (They do.)(12)

He is studying the various effects of alcohol:
This study investigated associations between behavior following acute ethanol administration and age, rearing condition (mother-reared vs nursery-reared), and serotonin transporter (rh5-HTTLPR) genotype in a sample of alcohol-naïve adolescent rhesus macaques. METHODS: Rhesus macaques (n=97; 41 males, 56 females), ranging in age from 28 to 48 months, were administered intravenous (IV) doses of ethanol … twice in 2 separate testing sessions. A saline/ethanol group (n=16; 8 males, 6 females) was administered saline in 1 testing session and ethanol in the second session. Following each IV injection, subjects underwent a 30-minute general motor behavioral assessment…. RESULTS: During the ethanol-testing session, behaviors indicative of motor impairment (stumbles, falls, sways, bumping the wall, and unsuccessful jumps) were frequently observed in the saline/ethanol group, while they did not occur under the saline-testing session.(13)
Suomi has been richly rewarded for his early monstrous behavior with a position of power and access to many young monkeys. He is a frequent speaker at scientific conferences and is lauded as an expert. For instance, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research says this about him:
Dr. Suomi has received international recognition for his extensive research on biobehavioral development in rhesus monkeys and other nonhuman primate species. His initial postdoctoral research (with his mentor, Harry F. Harlow) successfully reversed the adverse behaviour effects of early social isolation, previously thought to be permanent, in this species. His subsequent research at the University of Wisconsin led to his election as a Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science “for major contributions to the understanding of social factors that influence the psychological development of nonhuman primates”.(14)
Did we really need to know that experimentally induced adverse behavior could sometimes be reversed in this species?

Ironically, monsters are frequently honored and not infrequently held up as heroes, just as Suomi and Harlow have been. Harlow has a building named after him on the University of Wisconsin, campus in Madison and is regularly defended along the same lines as those used by Blum. Even when the historical record is pointed out, his defenders plow ahead as if dates don’t matter.

J. Marion Simms, “the Father of American gynecology” is a good example of the phenomenon of calling a monster a hero. There is a larger-than-life-sized bronze statue of him at the New York Academy of Medicine in New York City, and another that stands in Bryant Park, also in New York City, and still another one on the statehouse grounds in Columbia, South Carolina.

But Simms should be remembered for his repeated experimental gynecological surgeries on slave women without anesthesia—even after anesthesia became available. When he performed the surgery on white women, he always used anesthesia.

At least some vivisectors of the 1800s refused to experiment on the same animal twice “because of the torture of the creature.” But Simms had no such compunction. He operated repeatedly on some of the women he owned. In his most widely discussed case, he performed experimental surgery on a young slave woman named Anarcha 30 times in an effort to repair a vesicovaginal fistula—a perforation between the bladder and vagina.(15)

To the enslaved women and children Dr. Simms experimented on, calling him a hero would probably be considered a travesty if they were alive to voice their opinion. There isn’t much doubt that to the victim being held down on his operating table, shrieking and struggling to escape, Simms was a monster.

Neither a statue nor a building nor election to the American Association for the Advancement of Science is sufficient to transform a monster into a human being.



(1) Harry F. Harlow and Clara Mears. The Human Model: Primate Perspectives. Washington D.C.: V.H. Winston and Sons, 1979.

(2) Deborah Blum. Love at Goon Park, Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection. Cambridge: Perseus Publishing, 2002.

(3) Ibid.

(4) René Spitz. “Hospitalism: An inquiry into the genesis of psychiatric conditions in early childhood.” In: Psychoanalytic Study of the Child. Vol 1. New York: International Universities Press, 1945.

See too: René Spitz. “Anaclitic depression: An inquiry into the genesis of psychiatric conditions in early childhood II.” In: Psychoanalytic Study of the Child. Vol 2. New York: International Universities Press, 1946.

(5) Quoted at A Two year-Old Goes to the Hospital: A Scientific Film.” James Robertson. Robertson Films 1952. http://www.robertsonfilms.info/2_year_old.htm. The entire excerpt reads:
“The restraint and objectivity of the film may at first re­assure, for the child is unusually composed for her age, but few nurses will doubt the degree of her distress, the signs of which they have so often felt powerless to relieve.”—Nursing Times. “… explodes the belief that a ‘good’ child is well-­adjusted.”—Nursing Outlook. “Though the standard of care in the hospital was high she undoubtedly fretted.” —British Medical Journal. “…convincing and brilliant demonstration ad oculos of the outward manifestations of the inner processes that occur in infants who find themselves unexpectedly and traumatically without their families.”—Anna Freud, LL.D., International Journal of Psychoanalysis. “...a connected and credible demonstration of stress, separation anxiety, early defensive manoeuvres, and topics akin. ...also a social document of honest power. Without preaching, it bears a message of reform….”— Contemporary Psychology.

(6) Mary D. Ainsworth et al., contributors. Deprivation of Maternal Care: A Reassessment of its Effects. World Health Organization. New York: Schocken Books, 1967 (second printing.)

(7) Harry F. Harlow. “The Nature of Love.” American Psychologist. 1958.

(8) John Bowlby. Maternal Care and Mental Health: A report prepared on behalf of the World Health Organization as a contribution to the United Nations Programme for the Welfare of Homeless Children. 1950. In John Bowlby et al. Maternal Care. New York: Schocken Books, 1967 (second printing.)

(9) Harlow HF, Harlow MK, Suomi SJ. From thought to therapy: lessons from a primate laboratory. American Scientist. 1971.

(10) Ibid.

(11) Ibid.

(12) Lutz CK, Davis EB, Ruggiero AM, Suomi SJ. Early predictors of self-biting in socially-housed rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). North American Journal of Primatology. 2007.

(13) Schwandt ML, Barr CS, Suomi SJ, Higley JD. Age-dependent variation in behavior following acute ethanol administration in male and female adolescent rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 2007.

(14) Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 5-09. http://www2.cifar.ca/research/experience-based-brain-and-biological-development-program/program-members-ebbd/?i=227

(15) Harriet A. Washington. Medical Apartheid: The Dark history of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present. New York: Doubleday, 2006.

4 comments:

Term Papers said...

I have been visiting various blogs for my term papers writing research. I have found your blog to be quite useful. Keep updating your blog with valuable information... Regards

Stephen said...

Thanks for your fine introduction to these sadists. Their names should live on in infamy. It is so regrettable to me that they enjoyed and still enjoy lives of prestige and comfort on the back of animal suffering and torture.

Anonymous said...

I'm in a class on evolutionary science. I have to try to apply it, and so I came across this person. His name is Stephen Suomi. He had done some research on rhesus monkeys, I read, showing a consistent percentage become mad in the lab and the wild, I believe. I wanted to make a hypothesis that this exists in humans, the psychopathy that is, that leads some monkeys to leave their group, unable to function socially, and live out their lives alone and ultimately die alone. Then, I saw your blog. I am not surprised at the terrible behavior of these "scientists," but I feel their behavior is psychopathic. Wow! I can do my paper, but thanks for letting me know about these people. I like to know the person I am quoting. I'm disgusted, but I don't feel as bad about not being as "smart" as I often feel these jerks are. Great blog post in any event.

Bruceydog16 said...

What a beautifully written indictment, and thank you for seeing psychopathology as it really is: in the brain of the experimenter. Hans Ruesch, may he rest in peace, has found a voice once more in your compassionate treatise. I am so grateful to have discovered it, and will now follow your blog with welcome anticipation.