Compare and Contrast the Work of Harry Harlow and Mary Ainsworth on Understanding Attachment

Compare and contrast the work of Harry Harlow and Mary Ainsworth on understanding attachment


Contrasting and comparing the work of Harry Harlow (1962) with the work of   Mary Ainsworth (1953) on understanding attachment in children, shows that attachment is not based in cupboard love (the provision of food by the mother or the primary care giver) but is mainly formed through contact comfort and the sensitive responsiveness to the child’s signals provided by the mother or by the primary care giver. Mary Ainsworth’s study and research called “Strange Situation” provides a time-saving and effective way of assessing attachment in children showing that different attachment categories develop under different situations and is also cross-cultural.

Main body

There are a number of similarities and differences in the approaches of Harry Harlow and Mary Ainsworth in relation to attachment, the bond developed between the child and the mother or the primary care-giver.

First, both of them set out to investigate if the young children developed attachment to their primary care-giver based on cupboard love or as Bowlby,J (1979) suggested, if the young children had an inbuilt tendency to become attached to certain warm and soft stimuli.

In contrast, whilst Harlow studied the behaviour of rhesus macaques, Ainsworth observed the interaction between human babies and their primary care giver.

At first, Harlow observed that the baby monkeys who were separated from their diseased mothers and kept in separate cages on their own, every time the cages were cleaned, these baby monkeys used to cling on to the sanitary pads and protest when the cage cleaners would remove the pads from them. Harlow called this kind of behaviour ‘contact comfort’ and decided to research into monkey attachment, because some of the methods Harlow used were violently abusing and it would be unethical to conduct such experiments with humans.

Harlow designed two “dummies” which...