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The Science Blog

13/08/2014

Baby monkeys to be deprived of their mothers in archaic US study

Decades after American psychologist Harry Harlow’s infamously barbaric experiments on baby monkeys, researchers at the University of Wisconsin in the US have disturbingly been granted ethical approval to repeat Harlow’s controversial work.

Back in the 1970s, Harlow conducted a series of cruel experiments in which new-born monkeys were separated from their mothers and raised with cloth or mechanical surrogates, some of which were programmed to abuse them by poking them with sharp objects or blasting them with cold air, or kept inside a dark isolation chamber known as “the pit of despair” for up to one year. The results of these experiments were devastating as the monkeys suffered from permanent and irreversible psychological damage. Nevertheless, scientists claim that they learned a lot about the effects of abuse and neglect on social development.

Unfortunately, it appears that the scientific community is not satisfied with the results of these disturbing experiments and Wisconsin has recently approved a similar research proposal. Despite ethical opposition from within the university, the study is scheduled to proceed and has been granted funding by the publicly funded US National Institutes of Health.

The study will begin with removing 20 new-born rhesus monkeys from their mothers, who will have to be sedated or restrained to stop them from fighting back. For the first 21 to 42 days of their lives, the baby monkeys will be housed alone inside small incubators with only a stuffed animal to comfort them. They will then be paired with other baby monkeys and forced to endure regular brain scans and blood samples for one year. The monkeys will also be subjected to various behavioural tests designed to make them scared and anxious, one of which involves being placed in front of a live snake for up to 90 minutes. At the end of the experiment, all of the animals (including another group of 20 ‘control’ monkeys that were allowed to remain with their mothers throughout the study) will be killed and their brains dissected.

The BUAV is appalled to hear that this type of out-dated and barbaric research is even being considered let alone now approved by the US authorities. Instead of reviving decades-old research, resources would be better spent on studying actual human patients and human social situations.

Source:

1. Motherless monkeys: UW-Madison to revive controversial primate experiments. (2014). Isthmus: http://www.isthmus.com/isthmus/article.php?article=43284

2. The approved study protocol can be found here: https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.documentcloud.org/documents/1212992/protocol.pdf

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