Harlow Theory on Attachment

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Harlow Theory on Attachment

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Harlow Theory on Attachment

The act of attachment refers to the deep and long-term emotional bond that connects different individuals especially a mother and a child. This can be assessed through the specific behaviors that children exhibit. These include seeking protection from the person that they are so close to when they feel threatened or when they are upset. This explains how the relationship between the mother and the child comes about and influences how they develop later on. This paper seeks insight on the Harlow’s theory on attachment.

The monkey will attach to the cloth monkey which provides comfort rather than the wire monkey which provides food. Even though it is common for people to assume that an infant would cling to their mother for food, from Harlow’s experiment, this notion is dismissed. The infants got attached to the cloth monkey since she provided that tactile comfort that they so much needed. The infants had that biological need to touch and cling to the cloth monkey for emotional comfort (Cugel, 2008). That is why they all clung to the cloth monkey even though she did not have milk.

Recent research supports Harlow by giving the importance of the attachment window for human during the first ten months of an infant’s life. During this period, the attachment behaviors of the infant often attract the attention of the caregiver in a good way. The behaviors may be positive such as frequent smiles and cooing or that of protest such as fretting or crying. Such attachment behaviors initiated by the child are of great importance since they influence the approach and response behavior of the caregiver towards their needs (Fonagy, 2010). When the parent responds to these needs they influence the formation of selective attachments with the child right from the time when they are born to early infancy.

Caregiver exposure can reverse any harm done during the first six months of an infant’s life. When a child is isolated from their parent during the early stages in life, they grow up lacking some of the most essential aspects of life where they draw their source of comfort from the regular caregiver (Fonagy, 2010). What a child needs is not someone who gives him/her food. Rather, they need someone who is responsive to their needs and the individual must communicate and play with them. Thus, when a child who has lacked that initial attachment for the first six months is taken up by a sensitive person who responds fully to their needs, they get as attached to them as they grow and from this, a strong basis on which future relations with others are based is founded. The children will catch up and be just like other children their age. The children need that loving and caring environment for them to develop the attachment that they failed to develop in the early stages of life (Ainsworth et. al., 2015). From Harlow’s experiment, it was established that lack of attachment could be reversed if the infant monkey is relieved from the maternal deprivation before the end of the critical period. Thus, even with children, the effect of lack of attachment could also be reversed if the child is taken into the care of sensitive and caring parents in a loving home.

It is important for a child to build a connection with their caregiver early enough since this will to a great extent dictate the kind of relations that they will form later on in life. From Harlow’s experiment it was established that a child needs a caring and nurturing parent more than they need one who provides food. It is also important to note that the effect of separation from parents at a tender age can be reversed if the child is adopted by loving and sensitive caregivers before the end of the critical period which is usually the first three months of their lives.






Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. N. (2015). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Psychology Press.

Cugel (2008, April 14). Food or Security? Harlow’s study on monkeys’ attachment. Retrieved February 16, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsA5Sec6dAI

Fonagy, P. (2010). Attachment theory and psychoanalysis. Other Press, LLC.


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