Harry Harlow Biography


Birthday: October 31, 1905 (Scorpio)

Born In: Fairfield, Iowa, U.S.

Harry Harlow was an American psychologist known for his experiments on primates to study dependency needs, maternal-separation, and social isolation. His experiments became a matter of controversy, as many regarded it inhuman and often outrageously cruel. Harlow's experiments sparked the animal liberation movement in the United States. He began his research works in a self-established ‘Primate Lab’ at the ‘University of Wisconsin–Madison.’ He also created an isolation chamber and a breeding nursery for rhesus monkeys to conduct his social isolation experiments. Although highly criticized, Harlow's research has contributed a lot to the field of psychology, especially in understanding the importance of affection and social relationships during early years of life. His experiments on maternal deprivation conducted during the 1950s have been instrumental in studying primatology and the science of attachment and loss. He was the first-ever researcher to use the word "love" in a scientific paper, which again put him under scrutiny for not using conventional psychology terms. He is one of the most frequently cited psychologists.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Harry F. Harlow, Harry Frederick Harlow

Died At Age: 76


father: Alonzo Harlow Israel

mother: Mabel Rock

Psychologists American Men

Died on: December 6, 1981

place of death: Tucson, Arizona, U.S.

U.S. State: Iowa

More Facts

education: Stanford University, Reed College

awards: APA Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Psychology
Howard Crosby Warren Medal
National Medal of Science

Childhood & Early Life
He was born Harry Frederick Israel on October 31, 1905, in Fairfield, Iowa, to Mabel Rock and Alonzo Harlow Israel. His parents and had four sons and Harry was the third.
He attended 'Reed College,' Portland, Oregon, for a year, and passed an aptitude test to enrol at 'Stanford University' (1924). He, however, started with English major, but his poor grades made him switch to psychology after a semester.
Harlow graduated with a major in psychology, studying under the supervision of Walter Richard Miles (a vision expert) and Calvin Perry Stone (an animal behaviourist). Both his research mentors had served as president of the 'American Psychological Association' and were supervised by American psychologist and author Lewis Terman who had developed the Stanford-Binet IQ test.
Harlow conducted his research under Terman and received a Ph.D. in 1930. On Terman's persuasion, he changed his surname from Israel to Harlow to avoid any unnecessary negative comments as his last name, ‘Israel,’ sounded Jewish. Interestingly, Harlow was not Jewish.
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Harlow was appointed a professor at the 'University of Wisconsin–Madison,' where the 'Department of Psychology' did not provide him with adequate laboratory space. He bought and renovated a vacant building near the university, which later became the 'Psychology Primate Laboratory' (1930), one of the first psychology labs for testing animal behavior. The lab later relocated in 1950 to its current site. Harlow served as the director of the lab from 1956 to 1974.
The 'Harlow Center for Biological Psychology,' located on the campus of the 'University of Wisconsin-Madison,' is under the administration of its 'Department of Psychology.'
Harlow began his research, working with primates at 'Henry Vilas Zoo,' where he devised the 'Wisconsin General Testing Apparatus' (WGTA) to study learning, cognition, and memory.
Contribution to Psychology
Since Harlow's experiments were conducted on primates, they were considered cruel and became controversial.
He wanted to investigate the effects of stress, isolation, and abandonment on humans. He found the psychological similarity between primates and human beings, so he began experimenting on the former.
In 1932, he established a breeding colony for rhesus macaques to supply primates for his research and experiments on rhesus monkeys.
He raised the primates in a nursery, keeping their mothers away to study the effects of maternal deprivation. Harlow concluded that the deprivation caused negative psychological adaptation in the monkeys.
Harlow also investigated the effects of a surrogate mother on monkeys for which he created two inanimate surrogate mother options. The baby monkeys preferred the one made with cloth even though it did not provide food and milk. The other one was made of wood and wire and provided food. He concluded that maternal attachment is more about comfort and safety and less about food. The research eventually became useful in the validation of John Bowlby's theories of attachment.
Harlow later found out that social isolation led to harmful psychological effects.
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The 1953 controversial documentary film, 'A Two-Year-Old Goes to Hospital,' produced by psychoanalyst James Robertson, was based on Harlow's experiment on maternal separation and demonstrated its almost-immediate effects.
On August 31, 1958, Harlow reported the conclusions of his experiments for the first time during the sixty-sixth 'Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association' in Washington, D.C. The lecture was titled 'The Nature of Love.'
From 1959, Harlow began publishing his observations of his social isolation experiments.
He collaborated with several child analysts and researchers, such as Anna Freud and René Spitz to provide scientific validation to two powerful arguments - one against institutional child care and the other in favor of psychological parenthood.
For his contribution to the field of psychology, Harlow was honored with numerous awards, such as the 'Howard Crosby Warren Medal' (1956), the 'National Medal of Science' (1967), and the Gold Medal from the 'American Psychological Foundation' (1972).
He had also served honorary positions at several psychology research bodies. He was president of the 'American Psychological Association' (1958–1959), head of the 'Human Resources Research' branch of the 'Department of the Army' (1950–1952), and head of the 'Division of Anthropology and Psychology' of the 'National Research Council' (1953–1955).
He was a consultant to the 'Army Scientific Advisory Panel.'
Apart from his unethical experiments, his inflammatory and anthropomorphic language was also heavily criticized. He was infamous for not using conventional terminology, for instance, instead of "attachment," he used the term "love."
He called the isolation chamber for monkeys as a ''pit of despair'' (also called the ''well of despair''), which he had developed along with his graduate student Stephen Suomi. Sometimes, the monkeys were kept in isolation for over a decade.
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He also used a forced-mating device called the "rape rack" in which the surrogate-mother devices, called "Iron maidens," were heavily tortured and tormented.
Some of his students had revealed that he would continue his experiments even after they had produced results.
His unethical and cruel experiments provided momentum to the animal liberation movement in the U.S.
Personal Life & Death
Harlow's first wife, Clara Mears, was one of his students and had an IQ above 150. They got married in 1932 and had two children, Robert and Richard. They were divorced in 1946.
Thereafter he married child psychologist Margaret Kuenne, and had two children, Pamela and Jonathan. Margaret was diagnosed with cancer in 1967 and died on August 11, 1971. Kuenne's death left Harlow in depression. He used electro-convulsive therapy for treatment.
Harlow remarried Mears In March 1972 and lived together until his death.
Harlow died on December 6, 1981, in Tucson, Arizona, due to Parkinson's disease.
A solo play, 'The Harry Harlow Project,' based on the life and work of Harlow, was written and performed by James Saunders under the direction of Brian Lipson. The paly was produced in Victoria, Australia, and performed all over in Australia.
In 2002, a 'Review of General Psychology' survey placed him on the 26th position in the list of the most cited psychologists of the 20th century.

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