The Nature of Affection

By: Julia Farson

Ethics in Psychology

Ethics are defined as moral principles that govern a person's or group's behavior. In psychology, experiments are measured ethical or unethical by the following guide lines:

  • Well-being of participants weighed against the experimental value to science
  • Informed choice in participation
  • Justified deception
  • Potential risk factors explained to all participants
  • Participant withdrawal available at all times
  • Participants informed over true nature of study and expected outcome
  • Confidential data

Harry Harlow

Harry Harlow was an American psychologist during the twentieth century. Harlow was interested in studying the topic of love and motherly affection. In the beginning of the twentieth century, psychologists believed motherly affection was unnecessary and led to psychological problems as the child grew up. Harlow showed the importance of motherly love and affection in child development through controversial experiments.
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The Wire Mother Experiment

Harlow conducted experiments measuring the importance of motherly love through rhesus monkeys. The young monkeys were separated from their mothers at birth. Harlow replaced the mother of the rhesus monkey with a surrogate. The young monkeys were given a choice between two different surrogate mothers. One of the surrogates was made out of soft cloth, which provided the young with no food, while the other was made of wire, providing food. In this experiment, the young monkey spent more time with the cloth surrogate. This proved that contact was an important part of motherly love when many psychologists believed the love between a mother and its young was only dependent on survival.

Harlow also conducted an experiment measuring security with the young monkey and their surrogate mother. When placed in an unknown room with the surrogate, the young moved around more freely using their mother as a security. When the surrogate was taken away, the monkeys became distraught.

Positive and Negative Outcomes


  • Harlow's experiment showed motherly love went beyond survival
  • Harlow's experiment showed that motherly love was essential in child development


  • Rhesus monkeys separated from their mothers suffered psychological issues
  • Rhesus monkey mothers had their children separated from them shortly after their birth

Ethical or Unethical?

Harlow's experiments were unethical. The young monkeys suffered many psychological problems due to separation from their mother. It was also unethical because the mother's babies were stolen from them. Although the experiment was cruel, the results proved that motherly love and affection was necessary in proper child development.