Compare and Contrast Work by Harry Harlow and Mary Ainsworth on Understanding Attachment

Compare and contrast work by Harry Harlow and Mary Ainsworth on understanding attachment.

This essay aims to try and understand the principles of attachment by focusing on two studies: Harlow’s Monkeys and Mary Ainsworth’s Strange Situation.

It will also try to compare and contrast the work of Harlow and Ainsworth, the differences, similarities, advantages and disadvantages.

Harry Harlow: Harlow’s monkeys

Harry Harlow, cited in Custance (2012), was an American psychologist.

He investigated attachment and whether infants bond with their mothers simply because they provide them with food (‘Cupboard love’) or as suggested by Bowlby (cited in Custance, p.201) because it is an innate tendency. Due the nature of his research, he was unable to use human infants and instead chose to use baby rhesus macaques monkeys.

Harlow carried out several strains of the experiment based around a terry cloth mother (a wire frame, covered in toweling, a bottle providing milk and a light bulb for warmth) and a wire mother (no toweling but also had the ability to feed once a bottle was attached and a light bulb for warmth). He tested eight newborn monkeys, four using the terry cloth mother as the milk provider and the wire mother with no milk. The other four with the wire mother providing milk and the terry cloth mother with no food.

The results were overwhelmingly biased towards the terry cloth mother in all variations, whether she produced milk or not. If the wire mother had the milk, the monkeys would feed on it and then return to the terry cloth mother for comfort. When the wire mother was removed, the monkeys barely reacted whereas when the terry cloth mother was removed, the monkeys became distressed. These results showed that contact comfort was far more important when forming an attachment than the provision of food alone.

The advantage of using monkeys was that Harlow could conduct experiments that would not be permitted on humans for ethical reasons....