Harry Harlow

by Ayoung Jo, 3rd period

1. What theory did he develop?

He theorized that the forming of bonds between a child and a caregiver was emotional, rather than physiological.

During his time, people believed in the “Cupboard love theory of attachment” which said that attachment develops between infance and caregiver because the garegiver provides the infant with food.

Harry Harlow disproved this theory with his experiments

2. What type of psychologist was he?

Some background information:

-He earned his BA and PhD in psychology from Standford University (1930)

-Then he became a faculty at the University of Wisconsin, where he established Psychology Primate Lab a year later.

-He conducted the famous "Monkey experiment" in 1958

He was a social scientist - he mostly focused on the nature love, particularly between a mother and a child.

3. What influenced him or “lead” him to this theory?

Look above.

- He questioned the "Cupboard theory" which was then popular.

- He wanted to find out whether food or contact is more important in the formation of infant-mother attachment

- He also wanted to figure out the role of breastfeeding.

- Some say that his experiments may have been derived from Harlow’s own experience as an infant, because he was often alienated from his mother.

4. Do you support his theory? Why or why not?


We all know that fulfilling instinctual needs (such as nourishment) is very important. BUT mental and emotional security are just as important, if not more, as proven by Harry Harlow's research.

His theory shows that parental contact is absolutely critical to the infant's mental and social health, and may lead to life-long effects on social behaviors.

5. What kinds of experiments did he conduct?

“The Surrogate Mother Experiment”

He used rhesus monkeys because their behaviors with their mothers were similar to those of human infants’, such as clinging, learning, nursing etc.

He isolated the baby monkeys from their mothers before they even had a chance to bond, and then he put each of them into cages that had two “mothers”.

One was made covered with a soft and comfortable terry cloth

The other one only had the wire frame, but a bottle was attached to it.

Both were warmed with artificial heat.


The monkeys spent significantly more time with the cloth mother, even though it lacked the nourishment that the wire mother had.

They would go to the wire mother for very short periods of time, only to get food. (They always returned to the cloth mother)