The Senseless Continuation of Terrifying Anxiety Studies on Baby Monkeys

Monkeys in maternal deprivation studyAnxiety experiments on rhesus macaque monkeys by Ned Kalin, PhD, have been approved at the University of Wisconsin-Madison despite decades of opposition, the cruelty of such studies, and the lack of any benefit to humans that they yield. A 1986 report, written by Martin L. Stephens, PhD, former NEAVS science advisor, on behalf of NEAVS, AAVS, and NAVS, outlines a summary of similar studies back to their originator, Harry Harlow, and continuing with his successors. Dr. Stevens presents strong arguments against these egregious studies that are just as relevant today as they were in 1986, and are especially important in light of Kalin’s and others' continued funding. Read the original report here. Read a summary here.

During the 1950s and 60s, psychologist Harry Harlow conducted appalling maternal deprivation studies on rhesus monkeys at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. These studies, in which newborn monkeys were deprived of their mothers, and forced to live in isolation and/or subjected to stressors that Harlow himself called “the rape rack,” the “well of despair,” and other sadistically descriptive titles, found that such extreme deprivation and intense stress had long-term detrimental effects on the monkeys. He and later researchers’ studies with generations of these originally maternally deprived monkeys, to no ones’ surprise, found that the results of such cruel treatments caused enduring harm to generations of their children. Learn more here.

NEAVS president and licensed psychologist, Theodora Capaldo, EdD, who has an extensive background reviewing, and understanding psychological-behavioral studies, as well as treating both children and adults who suffered early parental trauma, asserts, “None of the data gleaned from these maternal deprivation studies performed on monkeys contained any insightful information that would provide additional implications for the treatment of human children who have been deprived of their mothers.” She continues, “Harlow was simply creating a tortured animal model to look at trauma. In fact, information from, for example, human war orphans, had already showed us the implications of easy trauma on the development of children. That Harlow’s work still continues in his successors, and remains a keystone of the University of Wisconsin-Madison is unconscionable.”

After outcry by hundreds of thousands, Dr. Kalin’s research protocol will no longer tear newborn monkeys away from their mothers. However, it will still force them to endure fearful experiments and end their young lives to study their brains – a far cry from the Animal Welfare Act’s (AWA) requirement that scientists “promote the psychological well-being of primates,” as well as “ensure that animal pain and distress are minimized” and that “alternatives to such procedures be considered.” This, as so many areas of research, is proof positive that there are no real protections against suffering and death for animals in labs. “The already bare minimum laws that do exist are made even further impotent in the face of ‘approved’ science,” notes Dr. Capaldo.

“There is no ethical justification for the University of Wisconsin-Madison resuming this abhorrent and immoral practice,” says Dr. Capaldo. “NEAVS, like other organizations and the public, must voice the strongest opposition in order to end this practice now. There has never been, and will never be relevant data that can be extrapolated to aid in the treatment of human infants and children.” To learn more about Dr. Capaldo’s conclusions on maternal deprivation, email

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By Martin L. Stephens, PhD


Over 250 maternal deprivation experiments on animals have been conducted to date. These experiments cost over $57 million, provided primarily by the federal government. Over 7,000 animals were subjected to procedures that induced distress, despair, anxiety, general psychological devastation, or even death. The results of this research have had little impact on clinical practice, and the potential for future advances seems limited. Many experiments were trivial extensions of past research, or simply were attempts to reproduce in animals what was already known about humans.

Given research such as this, it is not surprising that psychology experiments on animals have been criticized as cruel, wasteful or misguided (e.g. Bowd 1980, Bannister 1981, Drewett & Kani 1981, McArdle 1984). Rebuttals of these charges (Gallup & Suarez 1980; Coile & Miller 1984, Miller 1985) illustrate the need for in-depth evaluations of psychological research. The present evaluation provides substantial support for the critics, at least with respect to maternal deprivation experiments. If this area of research is representative of others within psychology, then the use of animals in psychological research faces a formidable challenge.

Read full paper here.

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