Harry Harlow’s methods during his seminal research on maternal bonding were pretty excessive on the cruelty front, even back in the 50s when the experiments occurred.
The respected psychologist conducted a series of tests on infant monkeys. The hypothesis was: ‘Babies need a mother’s love’. Displaying the twisted logic of a super-villain, Harlow would take the subjects from their mothers and cage them in a sensory deprivation cage. The ‘pit of despair’, as Harlow called it, consisted of an inverted pyramid on the interior, with smooth sides to render it impossible for the baby monkey to climb, causing it to slip down to the cell floor. After a few days of frantic escape attempts, the monkey would give up and eventually just shut down. Four were left in the pit for a month, four for six months and four were left in there for a year. For a goddamned year!
The results were clear – these monkeys ranged from seriously disturbed to emotionally and physically destroyed – 2 even began refusing food and starved to death. When it became clear that the monkeys could no longer engage in sexual activity after their ordeal, Harlow fashioned another nifty invention that he pithily dubbed ‘The Rape Rack’. The female subjects were tied to it in a mating posture, allowing for males to mate with them.
Needless to say, these tortured monkeys didn’t make great mothers. One traumatised subject held her infant to the floor and chewed its feet off. So, what did we learn? Motherly love is important. And some humans are sick.