Published on May 12th, 2013 | by Brian Gendron
Mother’s Day, Meatloaf, and… Monkeys? WTFreud
Moms are great. They provide warmth, love, meatloaf, affection, chocolate pudding pie, rides to the movies, and so much more. And those who are deprived of such relationships at a young age are significantly more likely to have trust and other socio-emotional issues as an adult, and are also more likely to have poor relationships with their own children.
Research shows us that the connection between a child and his or her primary caretaker (I’m just gonna say mom from now on) can be of the upmost importance. Simply put, moms set the foundation for our future attachment bonds, leading to an emotional tie often called love.
Today, researchers regard this emotional bond as one of the critical elements of healthy development. Simply put, early affection is important for developing into a healthy adult.
One of the most influential researchers to demonstrate this was an American psychologist named Harry Harlow. In the 1950s and 60s, Harlow conducted a number of animal experiments to demonstrate the desire for warmth and affection above and beyond the providing of food.
So, I know Mom has food, but can she offer me anything else?
In the studies, monkeys separated from their mothers at birth were “raised” by two puppet surrogates (see pictures below). One was made of wire (the beauty on the left) and provided food to the little furry subject. The other surrogate did not provide food, but was covered by a soft cloth (on the right, below).
The experiment was simply to test which replacement mother the monkeys would prefer – the one that provided food or the one that provided comfort. Through a handful of studies with many variations, the punch line was this: Monkeys pretty much only went to the wire mother for food. Otherwise, they spent an overwhelming majority of their time with the cloth mother.
When hanging out, the monkey hung out on the cloth mother. When chillin, the monkey chilled on the cloth mother. When interested in laying down on something soft instead of steel, it went to the cloth mother. Even when scared, it went to the cloth mother.
Harry Harlow himself put it like this: “These data make it obvious that contact comfort is a variable of overwhelming importance in the development of affectional response, whereas lactation is a variable of negligible importance.”
Perhaps it seems obvious today, but Harlow’s experiments provided some of the first evidence that normal child development is incredibly dependent on parental love and affection. You can have all the money in the world and shower your children in gifts, videogames, cars, and food cooked by 5-star chefs, but all of that will mean like nothing without actually being there.
When all goes well… we are indebted to moms for selflessly providing warmth, comfort, and a solid foundation for the rest of our lives. It’s as though we should dedicate an entire day to them each year, perhaps giving flowers, gifts, and thanks for being a real-life, cloth-covered monkeyyy.