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Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the…

Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection

by Deborah Blum

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Great book about an amazing researcher who changed the whole field of child - parent interactions. Harlow wasn't perfect, but did the work to prove that science can study, measure and have an effect on how parents can bring up healthy kids. ( )
  swalcker | Jan 22, 2017 |
Harry Harlow is famous for his contact comfort studies where he compared the responses of rhesus macaques that were raised by a wire mother to macaques raised by a terry cloth mother. Blum gives a fascinating account of Harlow’s background and training but the focus of the book is on Harlow’s study of love at a time when psychology was dominated by behaviorism. I can’t say that I found Harlow to be a likeable person but I certainly gained a great appreciation for his courage, tenacity, and genius. The book is written in a style that will appeal to most readers and I would recommend it for anyone interested in social, developmental, comparative psychology or in the history of the discipline. ( )
  lhager | Apr 4, 2008 |
Deborah Blum won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for her writing and reporting on primate experiments and ethics. In this 2002 book, she undertakes a history of the primate research by University of Wisconsin scientist Harry Harlow's team, famous for the "cloth monkey" studies that established the importance of a mother's love.

The author points out that infant care was very different at the beginning of the 20th Century. The influential and respected psychologist John B. Watson "led a professional crusade against the evils of affection." Too much mother love would warp a child, he taught. Doting parents would endow their children with “weaknesses, reserves, fears, cautions and inferiorities.”

Harry Harlow set out to prove otherwise. In order to do so, however, he had to understand the total nature of love, including its withdrawal. In this respect, many of his studies are today seen as cruel and unjustified. Blum maintains that not only were many studies by others much crueler, but that, before Harlow’s studies, we "didn't fully believe" that caring was so important to a child.

What Harlow did, in the 1950’s, was to separate infant monkeys from their mothers only hours after birth. He then divided the monkeys into two groups: both were to be fed and “raised” by a machine, but in half, the machine was just a wire monkey, and in half the wire monkey was covered with a soft terry cloth and given a face. The results were dramatic. The monkeys with the wire mothers grew up to be psychologically damaged and even physically sickly, whereas those raised by the cloth mothers were healthier in every respect.

More controversially, Harlow’s experiments didn’t stop there. He divided monkey groups by toys versus no toys, or administered random shocks, or put monkeys in isolation, and devised other experiments in order fully to understand the parameters of love and to overwhelm his detractors (of whom there were many).

Blum ends her engaging book with the plea:

"Let us remember the best of Harry's contributions as well as the worst. Let us not slip backwards, ever, into believing that we are not necessary to each other's health and happiness. You don't have to like the way Harry found his answers. Almost no one could admire every choice he made. But neither should we pretend that he did anything less than arrive at some fundamental truth. Our challenge is not to squander it."

Evaluation: This is a very readable and informative history about recent theories of childcare, and also of the development of primate studies. ( )
1 vote nbmars | Jun 30, 2007 |
Love at Goon Park -- Review on my blog ( )
  ethomsen | Mar 4, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0425194051, Paperback)

We take it for granted today that babies need love. But less than a century ago, psychologists warned women against showing their children "too much affection"-predicting dire consequences ranging from deadly disease to sexual dysfunction in adulthood. The story of how this conventional wisdom was finally shattered takes us into the life and the laboratory of Harry Harlow-workaholic, alcoholic, brilliant and brave, capable of caustic wit and cruelty-and into an era in which the scientific establishment was just beginning to understand the power of human emotion.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:19 -0400)

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Deborah Blum examines the history of love through the lens of its strangest unsung hero: a brilliant, fearless, alcoholic psychologist named Harry Frederick Harlow. Pursuing the idea that human affection could be understood, studied, even measured, Harlow (1905-1981) arrived at his conclusions by conducting research--sometimes beautiful, sometimes horrible--on the primates in his University of Wisconsin laboratory. Paradoxically, his darkest experiments may have the brightest legacy, for by studying "neglect" and its life-altering consequences, Harlow confirmed love's central role in shaping not only how we feel but also how we think. Blum views him as a pioneer in demonstrating the vital importance of relationships and love to health and survival.… (more)

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