Harry Harlow

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Compare and contrast research by Harry Harlow and Mary Ainsworth on understanding attachment

This essay is looking at the similarities of two researchers into attachment. The aim is to present their work so as to compare and contrast the different approaches and techniques used by both Harry Harlow and Mary Ainsworth. Even though they both had their different techniques in carrying out their experiments, the conclusion of their findings was very similar and this essay will be showing these findings by contrast. Both psychologists wanted to find out the underlying mechanics of attachment of mothers and their young.

Firstly an American psychologist namely Harry Harlow who almost by accident started the most influential work in understanding attachment, fortunately discovered he was unable to carry out his original study regarding intelligence in rats, so he turned to the abilities of monkeys after seeing strange behaviour portrayed by the monkeys as he cleaned their cages. Subsequently he realised the fuss was being made from the extraction of the soft sanitary towels that were used in lining their cages. With this in mind he set out to prove the affection these monkey had for the sanitary towels was in fact “contact comfort” seeing as all their other needs were catered for and there was only adverse behaviour on the removal of the towels. He used rhesus macaques a medium sized monkey, which shares 94% DNA with humans “yet one must not be very careful how one interprets this genetic similarity. We share 50 per cent of our DNA with a banana”(Discovering Psychology, p.204,2010). Harlow constructed two surrogate mothers for these babies to show affection or need. a wire cylinder that provided milk, also in the cage was a structure made of wood covered in foam with a layer of towelling(also known as terry cloth in America). On viewing the action of the baby monkeys Harry Harlow confirmed his theory of “contact comfort”. He witnessed the baby clinging on to the terry cloth mother for comfort and only reaching for the wire surrogate for food then returning back to the terry cloth mother. “In another experiment he showed that the babies treated the terry cloth mother as a “safe base” (Discovering psychology, p.207,2010) On displacement of the mothers the only distressing reaction came about on removal of the terry cloth mother with no reaction to the removal of the wire mother which produced food. Upon this observation “Harlow hypothesised that the tactile qualities of stimuli were more important for infant monkeys bonding then the provision of food”(Discovering psychology, p202,2010) So the previous assumption of the cupboard love theory was superseded by Harlows observation of contact comfort. However this conclusion was reach in monkeys and does not automatically prove the same in humans but does give a basis for the t

In looking at Marry Ainswoth's work on attachment it is seen there is a great difference in the subject and in the condition surrounding the research. Unlike Harlow who conducted his experiments in the controlled conditions of a laboratory, Ainsworth observed young babies from Ugandan families where she moved with her husband in 1953. Through the observation of the babies over “two hours every fortnight over a period of nine month”(Discovering Psychology, p.216,2010) She witnessed that upon the mothers showing comfort to their young, the affection that was shown calmed them and stopped them crying, Ainsworth arrived at the conclusion similar to Harlow that the babies needed tactile stimuli or “contact comfort” the findings she reached coincided with the work of Harlow. She discovered that the displays witnessed and the validation of contact comfort showed infants became more confident to explore as long as the mothers were present, acting as a safe base in the same way the monkeys reacted to the terry cloth mother. This was shown through Harlows placing the monkey in an unfamiliar...
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