In 1926, psychologist Sigmund Freud theorised that infants develop an attachment to their caregivers due to what he called ‘cupboard love’- the idea that the infant becomes attached simply because that individual fulfills its need for food. Harry Harlow’s experiment with infant macaque monkeys seem to show a different and somewhat heartwarming reality.
Harlow took new-born macaque monkeys and placed them in cages with “surrogate” mothers. As shown above, one mother was made of wire with an attached feeding bottle whilst the other was made of a soft and cuddly cloth yet no feeding bottle. If the ‘cupboard love’ theory was correct, the baby monkeys would remain with the mother that provided food.
This was not the case, however. For the duration of the experiment, the macque monkeys spent the majority of their time with the cloth mothers, who they also instinctively clung to when frightening looking objects were placed in their cage. This experiment showed the great importance of contact comfort in developing strong bonds between a child and their parents. Contemporary advice from psychologists and doctors had warned parents against rocking or picking up a crying child but the results of this experiment were so conclusive they changed the approach to parenting in the western world.