Harlow, H., & Harlow, M. (1966). Learning to love. American Scientist

Learning to love Harlow

Learning to love Harlow: What significance did this study have in advancing our knowledge of psychology and did it effectively investigate its research question?

Learning to love Harlow

The Nature of Love 

There is a review of three approaches to the development and origin of the infant-mother relationship: The social learning theories of dependency, psychoanalytic theories the relation of objects, and an ethologically oriented attachment theory. Dependency, object relations, and attachment though overlapping is viewed to be differing substantially. Amongst the concept in respect to which there are substantial inter-theoretical differences, the following areas are discussed: The genetic “biases”, reinforcement as compared to termination and activation of the behavioral system and with the response, the strength of the attachment behavior against the strength of the attachment, inner object representation, inner environmental and organic conditions of behavioral activation, and role of intra-organismic structure.  Lastly, the relationship between research methods and theory are considered.  

Learning to love Harlow

Warmth is perceived as the most powerful personality attribute in social judgment and theories of attachment have stressed the significance of warmth physical interaction with caregivers during infancy for a healthy relationship in adulthood. Recent studies in human behavior point to the insula environment in the processing of both interpersonal warmth and physical temperature information. Therefore, we hypothesized that physical warmth experience would increase the interpersonal warmth feelings without the individual awareness of his influence. 

The study complements the earlier one that reveals that maternal and romantic love both involves an overlapping and unique set of areas and also areas that are specific to each; the activated areas belong to the reward system in the brain and are also believed to contain a high-receptor density for vasopressin and oxytocin, signifying that neurohormonal control of these strong methods of attachment observed in animals also applies to human beings. Both methods of attachment suppressed activity in areas linked with negative emotions and also areas related to mentalizing & social judgment. This implies that strong emotional ties to another individual inhibit not only the negative emotions but also have an effect on the network involved in creating social judgment about that individual. 

Part II                                                                  

The developments within psychology that were as a result of this study.

Harlow opted to work and experiment with young rhesus monkeys since they were more mature compared to human infants, and exhibit little difference to the human infants in the manner in which the nurse, cling, responds to affection, and even how they hear and see.

The major development of Harlow’s study to the field of psychology is that he offered a better understanding of human actions. In the 1950s, American psychology was solely dominated by behaviorists, like BF skinner whose never-ending experiments with rats purposed to demonstrate how the mammalian mind was shaped by the surrounding environment (Blum, 2012). Harlow and his wife went against the norm by studying monkeys, which they believed offered a better understanding of human behavior. Harlow also declined to use terms such as “proximity” when what he actually meant was love. The study proved that infants value maternal connection, whether animate or inanimate. It also went on to show that infants need love and it influences their growth and later relations. In Harlow’s study, the fact that the presence of an inanimate surrogate influenced play among the infant monkeys, goes on to prove that normal behavior is elicited with the presence of a maternal connection.  

The behavior indicated that human beings were motivated depending on their basic drive of thirst, hunger, elimination, sex, and pain. Other motives, such as affection, and love, were secondary to these. In the rearing of a child, affection was restrained in favor of the trust in the training. There existed little understanding of what we presently understand about the significance of physical contact of babies. The infant monkeys presented lactation as an important factor to improve the mother-child connection but not necessary since there was not a significant amount of time difference spent between the lactating and the non-lactating surrogates.

Harlow’s work with monkeys elevated what we presently believe about the capacity and intelligence for feeling in animals. Skimmer BF had believed that animals had no feelings; nevertheless, Harlow’s monkeys were observed to be creatures that prospered on learning to love Harlow and curiosity, and with very deep emotional needs.  This was illustrated when the infant monkeys initiated play amongst themselves in the presence of an inanimate surrogate.

Nonetheless, all this kind of knowledge came with a price, the great irony is that for a scientist who assisted in determines ‘nature of love’ his labs were always cruel places for monkeys themselves (Peck, 2010). As he grew older, Harlow’s experiments got more brutal. This made him become a focus of the Animal Liberation Movement. The majority of those who assisted in this later research found it to be more devastating. The paper did by Harlow after the research with the infant monkeys indeed proved that indeed the infant monkeys were Learning to love Harlow. The emotion elicited when the monkeys interacted with the inanimate surrogate went on to prove that the environment in which a child is raised is key in its emotional development.

Learning to love Harlow


Blum, D. (2012). Love at Goon Park : Harry Harlow and the science of affection. London: MA : Perseus Pub.

Harlow, H. F., Laboratory., U. o., Services., P. S.-V., & University), P. C. (2010). The Nature and development of affection. Pennsylvania: University Park, PA : Pennsylvania State University, Audio-Visual Services.

Peck, M. S. (2010). The road less traveled : a new psychology of love, traditional values, and spiritual growth. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Leave a Reply