Monday, April 30, 2007

We're just a bunch of cuddle monkeys

I hadn't intended to blog on this, ever really. Somehow it is just on my mind.

In the 1950's a researcher named Harry Harlow conducted an experiment with baby monkeys to see which of these needs they would choose to fulfill: food or comfort. He built a wire "mother" that provided milk, and a warm, cloth covered "mother" to provide comfort. All of the monkeys clung to the cloth mother and only went to the wire mother when absolutely necessary. They would then hurry back to the cloth mother. He deduced that because the monkeys chose something that they "liked" over something that they "needed" that attachment to your mother isn't based upon your needs being met, but rather on something more complex.

In my opinion (that's a bit redundant isn't it?, after all this is my blog and who the hell else's opinion would it be?), while Harlow's conclusions make sense (but duh! what kind of idiot can't tell that attachment is more complex than being fed?), I think he has a fallacy in his scenario. Never mind the fact that it strikes me as unnecessarily cruel to torment baby animals in this manner, it does, but that's not the point. He assumes that physical contact, comfort and warmth aren't needs. Bollocks.

Now, I realize that you aren't going to die if you go three days without being touched. I know that it isn't on the same level as food and water. But when you think about it, physical contact isn't just something we enjoy. If you look at the tragic situations in the Russian and Romanian orphanages you can see definitive proof of this. This need doesn't stop once we leave childhood, but with each passing year it gets harder and harder for us to meet this need, unless we are in a romantic relationship. (Or perhaps have a lot of touchy-feely friends). Part of this has to do with the awkwardness of adolescence, and the desire to distance oneself from "childish" things. Part of this also has to do with the fact that the older we get the more we are conditioned to view physical contact as synonymous with sexual contact. However, these aren't one and the same. (Just like every square is a rectangle but not every rectangle is a square. Yay Geometry!). But for many people they end up being the same, because that's all they can get.

So, if you know someone who stays in a relationship with someone despite the fact that it is clearly toxic (either emotionally or physically), remember those baby monkeys. Remember that they were damn near willing to starve themselves in order to have someone to cuddle with. It is a powerful need and one that is sorely met for too many people. Hug someone you know today.


rainbowCipher said...



rainbowCipher said...

I just read that you're not currently reading anything... what's going on with that? I shall bring you something tomorrow!

Mockingbird said...

Preach it, sister! Human contact is a basic, fundamental NEED. And I defy Harlow or any of his ilk to tell my that the lovely and telepathic Spooky is loyal to me solely due to my function as "food girl."

Scientists. Hmmpf! Can only believe what they can see and quantify. Perhaps we should conduct an experiment in which we put a few on cages and poke them repeatedly with sharp sticks to determine if they find the experience unpleasant and indicate their discomfort by ambulating in a retreating fashion from the negative stimuli.

Mockingbird said...

OK - we should put them "in" cages, not "on" them. My bad.

And scientists are good for some things, don't get me wrong. But they ought to stay away from the human (or simian) heart.

Stacked Librarian said...

I'm currently not reading anything, although I am supposed to be reading something for book club. I just don't wanna.

Stacked Librarian said...

I don't know what it is about certain types of minds that feel that they have to PROVE something that most people would view as common sense. Does it somehow make it less true if you don't have data that was taken from a controlled environment to support basic truths?

rainbowCipher said...

Well, according to my Statistics II Professor (and on a side-note I didn't do very well in that class) you must always have a constant and controlled variable for comparison. idk... I hated the class myself, and only half understood her so... there ya' go! =D