I have been a physician for 49 years and a psychiatrist for 41. I graduated cum laude from Lehigh University in 1961, majoring in psychology, where I studied the work of Harry Harlow. I have been practicing psychiatry since 1973.
Harlow’s maternal deprivation experiments shamefully began at UW-Madison in the 1950s to study the nature of love. Now they are being continued, despite having been discredited over the last 30 years, including by Harlow himself.
In 1976 Harlow student and collaborator Stephen Suomi wrote in a chapter entitled Mechanisms Underlying Social Development: A Re-examination of Mother-Infant Interactions in Monkeys in the book “Symposium on Child Psychology”:
(W)hether actual data obtained from nonhuman primates have added measurably to our understanding of human development is another matter. The record to date has not been particularly impressive ... (the) few findings derived from nonhuman primates that have clearly advanced knowledge of human development ... are relatively rare. Most monkey data that readily generalize to humans have not uncovered new facts about human behavior; rather, they have only verified principles that have already been formulated from previous human data.
In a 1977 chapter entitled Production and Alleviation of Depressive Behaviors in Monkeys, in the book “Psychopathology: Experimental Models,” Harlow and Suomi questioned their contributions. In a chapter entitled Primate Models of Depression, they wrote:
(W)e have ... difficulty establishing a strong case (for) the data obtained from depressed monkeys for clinicians ... working with depressed patients since so much monkey work ... has been based upon existing human data and theories.
Harlow collaborator William McKinney wrote in 1986: "The 'modelling' of a specific clinical syndrome (depression) in animals will be de-emphasized."
In 1979, toward the end of Harlow's life, Harlow collaborators Gary Kraemer and McKinney wrote that “much monkey work to date has been based upon existing human data and theories.” Harlow himself alluded to the inherent cruelty and redundancy of his experiments; questioned his experiments’ value in the 1977 article; and, in a display of honesty, wrote in 1974 in The Pittsburgh Press Roto: “The only thing I care about is whether the monkeys will turn out a property that I can publish.”
So much for the dedication and scientific curiosity of Harry Harlow.
In general, maternal deprivation monkey experiments are performed by Ph.D.s, not M.D.s, as they are considered “experimental psychology.” This psychology subfield has contracted greatly over the last 30 to 40 years, possibly in part due to the ideas of Don Bannister, a physiological psychologist. In 1968, he wrote in an article entitled The Myth of Physiological Psychology in The Bulletin of the British Psychological Society that “redundant" experiments in his field were merely reprocessing already-known phenomenological psychology information into a “new” animal behavioral format to try and lend greater scientific credibility to human data.
So it was with shock, confusion and alarm that I read that UW-Madison, rather than de-emphasizing animal models, proposed that Ned Kalin, chair of the department of psychiatry at UW's School of Medicine and Public Health, conduct yet more maternal deprivation experiments. Kalin has conducted such experiments for over 30 years, but it is time for UW to curtail such monumental waste and cruelty. These experiments — so costly, cruel and time-consuming — should at least carry the possibility of contributing to human health. The truth about these experiments, however, was admitted by Harlow student Gary Kraemer, who concluded in 1981 that it is "nice" to demonstrate human findings in the lab. Such a rationale is a disgrace.
The true pioneer of maternal deprivation was British psychiatrist Sir John Bowlby, and Rene Spitz and Donald Winnicott before him, all of whom worked with human babies separated from their mothers. Bowlby’s final article before his death, a review on maternal separation in humans entitled Developmental Psychiatry Comes of Age and published in The American Journal of Psychiatry in 1988, contained not one mention of Harlow. One of his seminal books, "Attachment and Loss: Loss," mentions 297 relevant authors, but no mention of Harlow. His other seminal book,"Attachment and Loss: Attachment," says of Harlow’s work:
Exactly what sensitive periods there may be in the development of adult social responses in nonhuman primates, and exactly what conditions and experiences are necessary in infancy, childhood, and adolescence if they are to develop adaptively, remain uncertain.
In other words, the findings in monkeys cannot generalize to humans.
Now Kalin is continuing this charade. All of Kalin's studies thus far, from my perspective after over 40 years of clinical practice, have contributed nothing to patient care.
Because of such a scientific hoax, the name of UW-Madison is becoming tarnished in scientific circles throughout the country. Clinicians consider UW's continued emphasis on and advocacy for monkey maternal deprivation experiments a farce. The experiments are also insulting to those UW alumni intelligent enough to see through UW’s ridiculous grab for National Institutes of Health funds. UW needs to at once — and forever — eliminate maternal deprivation from its research activities.
Murry J. Cohen, M.D., practices psychiatry in Virginia and is a member of Alliance for Animals.