1928: John B. Watson publishes Psychological Care of Infant and Child. "Never, never kiss your child," Dr. Watson commanded. "Never hold it in your lap. Never rock its carriage." Watson’s position is the standard advice to parents from pediatricians of the time.
1935: Rene Spitz pioneers direct observation of mothers interacting with their babies to understand potential causes of some children’s psychological problems.
1945: Spitz begins observations of children in orphanages.
1946: Benjamin Spock publishes The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. "Don't be afraid to trust your own common sense," he wrote. "What good mothers and fathers instinctively feel like doing for their babies is usually best." Spock’s Baby Book was an instant runaway best seller.
By the time Dr. Spock died in 1998, nearly 50 million copies of his famous book had been sold worldwide. It had been translated into 42 languages, according to his obituary in the New York Times.
1948: Social Commission of the United Nations decides to study the needs of homeless children in post-war Europe. Other specialized agencies express their support.
January 1950: The World Health Organization commissions John Bowlby to lead the study.
October 1950: Bowlby presents his book-length report: Maternal Care and Mental Health.
February 1952: Second Edition of Maternal Care is printed.
Bowlby’s monograph Maternal Care and Mental Health was ... at once acclaimed an unqualified contribution to its subject. Its success is shown by the frequency with which it has been printed and the many languages into which it has been translated.1952: A Two Year Old Goes to the Hospital. James Robertson. A Scientific Film.
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 ... His indictment on that 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. (From the Preface to Deprivation of Maternal Care: A Reassessment of its Effects. World Health Organization. 1966.)
This short film, made by one of Bowlby’s students, proved highly challenging to doctors and hospitals and is credited for much of the quick and sweeping change in child care in institutions that occurred following the publication of Maternal Care.
By the early 1950s, the old position, exemplified by John B. Watson’s 1928 work cited above, had been universally abandoned. The devastating and quick onset of the effects to a young child being removed from her mother was well and widely accepted; the even greater and lasting insult resulting from emotional isolation and the absence of physical contact with a nurturing caregiver was universally understood. Benjamin Spock’s suggestions to hold and kiss your children were universally understood to be key elements in the development of an emotional healthy human being.
While Maternal Care and Mental Health and A Two Year Old Goes to the Hospital, and similar work by a large number of researchers whose work has been somewhat forgotten as a result of Bowlby’s success, made it clear that children need emotional nurturing, the theoretical reasons for this need became the topic of much debate.
It was this arcane debate -- largely meaningless for clinical care -- that opened the door to a flood of incredibly cruel experiments on animals. The experiments continue today, though there are many fewer scientists interested in them.
Before looking at a brief history of the animal experiments, it is worth noting that research into the effects of various types and degrees of deprivation in children has continued.
Interest in the problem was greatly increased following the 1989 Christmas day execution of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The collapse of his regime opened Romania to the eyes of the world; shock and outrage resulted from the reports about the Romanian government's orphanages and the plight of the children who are sometimes referred to as the Ceausescu Orphans.
According to NGO estimates, more than 170,000 orphans were languishing in government institutions under appalling conditions.
"The [orphanages] varied from poor to abysmal," says Dana Johnson, an American doctor who first visited Romania in 1993. "People were very morose. There wasn't much joy in their lives and the institutions reflected that." In the baby houses, Johnson observed that children's physical needs were attended to and there was food to eat, "but there was neither the time nor the knowledge to truly promote normal development in kids." Unlike growing up in a family, the children didn't have lots of interactions with adults holding them, talking to them, singing or playing with them, and that lack of stimulation affects brain development. [Rewiring the Brain: Early Deprivation and Child Development. Romania's Orphan Story 1966-2006. American RadioWorks. Sasha Aslanian, Producer. http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/romania/b1.html]Today, much work is underway to improve the lives of the people who were in the institutions. Accompanying that effort, psychologists and medical doctors are detailing the lasting effects as well as the improvements.
For instance, in a 2010 paper, “Growth and associations between auxology, caregiving environment, and cognition in socially deprived Romanian children randomized to foster vs ongoing institutional care,” researchers report that:
Foster care had a significant effect on growth, particularly with early placement and high-quality care. Growth and IQ in low-birth-weight children are particularly vulnerable to social deprivation. Catch-up growth in height under more nurturing conditions is a useful indicator of caregiving quality and cognitive improvement.From the many studies of these children and their life trajectories, it is clear that the only way to help them recover to any degree is by nurturing them, by providing the one thing they didn’t have as very young children. This “cure” fits neatly into what Benjamin Spock taught the world so many years ago.
With this as background, we can now consider a brief history of deprivation experiments using animals.
The earliest reference I can find that mentions separating baby animals from their mothers to see what would happen is the work of Howard S. Liddell, a vivisecting psychologist. Here’s a paean to the monster at the time of his passing.
Liddell’s maternal deprivation experiments focused on the use of twin goats. One was left with his or her mother and the other was removed periodically. This is the only animal study mentioned by John Bowlby in his WHO monograph.
A small number of critics of Bowby's work suggested that most of the deleterious effects observed as a result of maternal deprivation were the result of the children coming from “poor stock” both physically and emotionally; that is, most of the studied children were poor, and poor people are poor because of inherited genetic deficits.
Bowlby addressed these criticisms by appealing to Liddell’s experiments. He wrote:
... the only certain method of controlling [for] heredity is by the use of a sample of identical twins. Though there are no human twin studies on the problem, Liddell (personal communication) is doing experimental work on twin goat kids, one of whom is separated from its mother each day and the other is not. Except for the daily experimental period of 40 minutes, both kids live with and feed from their mother. During the experimental period the lights are periodically extinguished, a stimulus known to create anxiety in goats, and this produces very different behaviour in the twins. The one which is with its mother is at ease and moves freely; the isolated one is “psychologically frozen” (Liddell’s words) and remains cowed in a corner. In one of the first experiments the isolated kid discontinued suckling from its mother and, the experimenters being unaware of this and unable to help, died of dehydration after a few days. This is ample demonstration of the adverse effects of maternal deprivation on the mammalian young, and disposes finally of the argument that all the observed effects are due to heredity.A pioneer in this truly and remarkably cruel line of study was Harry F. Harlow, the first director of the Wisconsin Primate Research Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Harlow and his students were the authors of many of the approximately 500 scientific papers – published between the late 1950’s (Harlow published the “Nature of love” in 1958) through about 1985 – utilizing isolation-reared monkeys (occasionally dogs) as models of depressed and anxious humans, especially children [See Stephens, M.L. Maternal Deprivation Experiments in Psychology: A Critique of Animal Models. 1986. American, National, and New England Antivivisection Societies.]
Here's a sampling:
1959 Harlow HF, Zimmerman RR. Affectional responses in the infant monkey; orphaned baby monkeys develop a strong and persistent attachment to inanimate surrogate mothers.
1962 Seay B, Hansen E, Harlow HF. Mother-infant separation in monkeys.
1962 Harlow HF, Harlow MK. The effect of rearing conditions on behavior.
1962 Harlow HF, Harlow M. Social deprivation in monkeys.
1964 Seay B, Alexander BK, Harlow HF. Maternal behavior of socially deprived rhesus monkeys.
1964 Harlow HF, Rowland GL, Griffen GA. The effect of total social deprivation on the development of monkey behavior.
1965 Seay B, Harlow HF. Maternal separation in the rhesus monkey.
1966 Griffin GA, Harlow HF. Effects of three months of total social deprivation on social adjustment and learning in the rhesus monkey.
1967 Arling GL, Harlow HF. Effects of social deprivation on maternal behavior of rhesus monkeys.
(1967 Harlow wins National Medal of Science.)
1969 Kerr GR, Chamove AS, Harlow HF. Environmental deprivation: its effect on the growth of infant monkeys.
1970 Suomi SJ, Harlow HF, Domek CJ. Effect of repetitive infant-infant separation of young monkeys.
1971 McKinney WT Jr, Suomi SJ, Harlow HF. Depression in primates.
1971 Harlow HF, Suomi SJ. Production of depressive behaviors in young monkeys.
1972 McKinney WT Jr, Suomi SJ, Harlow HF. Repetitive peer separations of juvenile-age rhesus monkeys.
1973 Young LD, Suomi SS, Harlow HF, McKinney WT Jr. Early stress and later response to separation in rhesus monkeys.
1973 Chamove AS, Rosenblum LA, Harlow HF. Monkeys (Macaca mulatta) raised only with peers. A pilot study.
1973 Harlow HF, Plubell PE, Baysinger CM. Induction of psychological death in rhesus monkeys.
1974 Harlow HF, Suomi SJ. Induced depression in monkeys.
1975 Suomi SJ, Harlow HF. Effects of differential removal from group on social development of Rhesus monkeys.
1975 Suomi SJ, Eisele CD, Grady SA, Harlow HF. Depressive behavior in adult monkeys following separation from family environment.
1975 Suomi SJ, Collins ML, Harlow HF, Ruppenthal GC. Effects of maternal and peer separations on young monkeys.
It has been demonstrated repeatedly that even brief separations can have lasting deleterious consequences to rhesus monkeys.
Papers on isolation and separation continue to be published by Harlow’s students and others. See for instance, Physiological and behavioral adaptation to relocation stress in differentially reared rhesus monkeys: hair cortisol as a biomarker for anxiety-related responses. Dettmer AM, Novak MA, Suomi SJ, Meyer JS. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2012. Both Novak and Suomi were Harlow’s students.
It remains to be seen, even after half a century of this cruelty, what benefit to human children has accrued from isolating baby animals from their mothers, as if any benefit could justify the willful infliction of so much suffering.
The benefit to those whom the taxpayers unknowingly pay to conduct these macabre cruelties is clear enough however.