This American Life: Unconditional Love

Dr. Harlow spent a lot of time with monkeys and their mommas. Evil, robot mommas, to be exact.

Dr. Harry Harlow and his Artificial Mother

Harry Frederick Harlow was an American psychologist best known for his maternal-deprivation and social isolation experiments on rhesus monkeys, which demonstrated the importance of care-giving and companionship in the early stages of primate development. He conducted most of his research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he worked for a time with humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow.

Some of Harlow's experiments involved rearing infant macaques in isolation chambers that prevented them from having any contact with other monkeys or human beings. The monkeys were left alone for up to 24 months, and emerged severely disturbed.

This podcast from This American Life examines Stories of unconditional love between parents and children, and how hard love can be sometimes in daily practice.

Hard as it is to believe, during the early Twentieth Century, a whole school of mental health professionals decided that unconditional love was a terrible thing to give a child. The government printed pamphlets warning mothers against the dangers of holding their kids. The head of the American Psychological Association and even a mothers' organization endorsed the position that mothers were dangerous—until psychologist Harry Harlow set out to prove them wrong, through a series of experiments with monkeys. Host Ira Glass talks with Deborah Blum, author of Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection.