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You all remember the wire mother and cloth mother experiments on attachment from first-year psychology, right? In the 1950s, University of Wisconsin researcher Harry Harlow removed rhesus monkeys from their mothers shortly after birth, and, in various tests, placed them with surrogate "mothers" -- in the most famous comparison, one mother was made of wire mesh, and had a rubber nipple to dispense milk, but the other mother, which had no milk, was made with soft terrycloth and looked at least a little like a mommy monkey. Every single time, the baby monkeys would cling to the soft cloth mothers, going to the wire mother only when absolutely necessary to be fed. (There's a famous photo of one monkey clinging to its cloth mother and leaning waaaay over to nurse from the wire mother. Harlow later placed a wall between the two to prevent that.)


In this film, Harlow explains, in small words for early mass TV audiences, how it all worked:


The film starts off wonderfully hokey, but I'm pretty sure I remember being horrified at the little monkey being frightened by the robot "predator." And I certainly recall -- vividly -- seeing some old PBS show about Harlow's later, "successful" experiments using social isolation to instill severe depression in baby monkeys.

But just the difference between baby monkeys who had only cloth mothers (this time with milk) and those who had only wire mothers was incredible:

[While] the infants from both groups consumed the same amount of milk from their mother, the infants who grew up with the terry cloth mother exhibited emotional attachment and what is considered as normal behaviour when presented with stressful variables. Whenever they felt threatened, they would come close to the terry cloth mother and cuddle with it until the monkeys were calm.

The results for the wire mesh mother were the opposite. They reacted rather differently with the same stimulus – throwing themselves on the floor, rocking back and forth, and evidently did not go to the wire mesh mother for comfort.

I think I may have seen that PBS program when I was 11 or 12, not long after my mother adopted my older brother -- then around 15 -- when his alcoholic parents' family was collapsing. I never, even once, talked to him about his habit of rocking himself to sleep at night, thrashing from side to side in his bed. He later turned out to be an asshole.

Harlow's monkey experiments -- along of course with Benjamin Spock -- helped bring about a small revolution in parenting advice, because for a long time, postwar child-rearing experts insisted that too much touch and affection was bad for babies, who should learn self-control by crying it out. Wouldn't want to sissify your babies by holding them and cooing to them too much.

I've been thinking of Harlow's monkeys since National Public Radio interviewed Colleen Kraft, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics yesterday. Kraft was featured in a Washington Post article about her visit to a Border Patrol facility where children who had recently been taken from their parents. Kraft was astonished to learn from a frustrated shelter worker that

as much as she wanted to console the little girl, she couldn't touch, hold or pick her up to let her know everything would be all right. That was the rule, Kraft said she was told: They're not allowed to touch the children.

"The really devastating thing was that we all knew what was going on with this child. We all knew what the problem was," Kraft said. "She didn't have her mother, and none of us can fix that."

Here's the NPR interview with Kraft:


Kraft explained the potential developmental consequences for children separated from their parents, especially the very young kids who are now coming by the hundreds into HHS shelters:

As little babies, we connect with that caring parent who helps us through our concerns with feeding and sleeping and helps us calm down when we're upset. And for little children, what stress does is it increases their stress fight or flight hormones so epinephrine, cortisol, norepinephrine.

And what we know is that in the absence of that loving caregiver, these stress hormones become toxic to these kids. And in fact, this is called toxic stress.

All I could think was, my God. We are the wire mother. The effects aren't at all hard to find, as Buzzfeed reports:

Studies of detained immigrant children have found both physical and emotional ailments, particularly problems in learning and behavior, for years after the separation. A 2014 inquiry into immigrant children detained by Australian authorities, for example, found that three-quarters had developed psychiatric ailments. An earlier study found 8 out of 10 had developmental delays or emotional disturbances.

"The age of the child matters," [University of Minnesota child psychologist Megan] Gunnar said. Children under age 10 are of deep concern, she said. "Those under 5 should get us all running around with our hair on fire to get this practice stopped."

Yesterday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told sheriffs not to believe media stories that family separation is somehow cruel, because the shelters where children are warehoused provide food and medicine and even education.

It is important to note that these minors are very well taken care of. Don't believe the press. They are very well taken care of [...] We operate according to some of the highest standards in the country. We provide food, medical, education and all needs that the child requests.

Hope you don't mind our quoting that again, because it illustrates how little the New Cruelty knows or cares about children. They're being fed. They have clothes. They have a nice wire enclosure, and then later a real bed if they're lucky. And if they end up permanently damaged, well, they won't be damaged in the USA, now will they?

The American Academy of Pediatrics is one of 90 organizations, representing over 9,300 professionals, who have petitioned the government to stop family separation because of the lasting harm it's likely to do to young, traumatized children. Their petition cites the very specific harm that's likely to result from children being taken away from their parents, sometimes for months:

From decades of research and direct clinical experience, we know that the impact of disrupted attachment manifests not only in overwhelming fear and panic at the time of the separation, but that there is a strong likelihood that these children's behavioral, psychological, interpersonal, and cognitive trajectories will also be affected. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, which is funded in part by the Department of Health and Human Services, notes that children may develop post traumatic responses following separation from their parents and specifically lists immigration and parental deportation as situations of potentially traumatic separation. To pretend that separated children do not grow up with the shrapnel of this traumatic experience embedded in their minds is to disregard everything we know about child development, the brain, and trauma. [emphasis added -- Dok Zoom]

The Trump administration doesn't believe in science, so the pleas of experts will almost certainly carry no weight. The "president" himself taught his own son, Don Jr, at a tender age that he should never trust anyone, including (and especially) Daddy, so it's only natural to expect Trump will dismiss the warnings of stupid liberal baby doctors who think "human contact" has any value. Trump is already insisting that migrants, including the kids, have been coached by evil open-borders lawyers (very bad people!) to lie about being in danger back home:

They didn't even go to the Wharton School of Finance, but they get away with all this!

So next, we can look forward to Trump or Laura Ingraham or Sean Hannity praising the family separation policy for toughening up those little animals.

And in 20 years, we'll wonder why there are so many Central American terrorists who hate America. We may have to launch a travel ban and a deportation campaign.

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[WaPo / NPR / Buzzfeed / WaPo]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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