Monday, January 28, 2013

The Wire Parents Experiment

I've wanted to write this post for a long time, but things get in the way. Like not finding a good link to the Wire Mother experiment. This is not a really good one, either, but more accurate ones are also more disturbing.

I feel like my therapist gave me "permission" not to have felt attached to my parents enough to truly feel hurt when their lack of love for me was demonstrated, because I've always felt this on some level.

And then I felt like one of Harlow's monkeys, one raised by a wire surrogate. (These rhesus monkeys were isolated and put in a room with a wire contraption which held a bottle of milk.) I was fed and taken care of, just not loved in any vital, living, animal or human way.

These monkeys were physically healthy. They were just emotionally and socially stunted.

And they didn't attach to the wire mother.

There were other monkeys in the experiment, ones that had a cloth mother too. They cuddled with her and ran to her for comfort. They were inconsolable if she was removed from the room.

These fared better afterwards.

I was raised by wire parents. It's not my fault I never felt much for them. It's not my fault I went to them for food and the went away and never cared if they were removed.

They weren't even fucking cloth surrogates.


  1. I understood that the monkeys that had attached themselves to the cloth surrogates would have starved to death because, when offered the wire monkey with milk, they would refuse. They felt safer and more comfortable with their cloth surrogates because it was more reminiscent of their real mothers.

    It was a sad experiment, but one that produced intriguing results. I would venture a guess that most ACoNs feel that there mother's were of the wire variety.

    1. Not quite. They would go and feed from the wire mothers and go immediately back to the comforting (relatively speaking) cloth mothers. Before these experiments, "the experts" (behaviorists) actually told people not to interact with/hold/comfort their children because doing so would "spoil" them. Pretty nuts, huh?

  2. Yes, they surely were the (Barbed) Wire Parents (from hell.) We are born with such an innate need to bond with our parent(s) and it takes a whole bunch of concerted effort to destroy that need, to destroy the unconditional love we're wired for from birth. But destroy it, they do.
    Yk, when I read comments from NPs insisting they were some kind of primo parents because they provided "food, clothing, shelter" (para) I think, "So do ORPHANAGES." Essentially we were orphans. We had the overt trappings perhaps of a "Home" (that was actually a house, period the end) and overt appearances of "Parents" but we were not provided with the unconditional love one generally associates with being a parent. Sure, I recognize intellectually NP's are incapable of bonding with or genuinely loving their children (or anyone else, for that matter) but still, they blame US for the lack of bond. IMO, it's the whole, "Blame the victim" type of mentality (minimally) that still stuns me with it's transparency.
    Your unconditional love and bond with your own children just shines through your Posts, PA. How can you/we NOT contrast that with what we experienced?

  3. I relate to this post. I was a baby monkey. Lol.

  4. I thought of the same experiment when I finally gave myself permission to stop trying to bond with my mother. Hasn't worked for over 50 years it is not going to work now. In an interesting way it is kind of freeing. To contrast this, I was criticized often for cuddling with my children too much. I was criticized for spending too much time with them. Now that I look back..I kind of wished I told these nay sayers to go jump in a lake and spent even more time with my kids. I wish I worried less and enjoyed them more for just being themselves.

  5. Wow. Eye popping. Barbed wire mother. I have one of those.

    TW--an orphanage! Indeed! I was looking for a way to describe that. I had food. I had clothes. I had a roof over my head. By all outward appearances, I had a great childhood, says the FOO. It's just that no one took the time to look in the windows. I MUST be ungrateful, a liar, difficult, just a gosh darn crappy person. Inside those walls I had no love, support, affection, encouragement, etc. All those little things that are the big things. So, yes, an orphanage is a spot-on description.
    I am an orphan. I'm learning to embrace that and see it as my freedom because afterall, why would I want to continue to live there?

  6. Wonderful correlation PA. I hadn't thought about that before.

    TW - I also love the orphanage comparison. That is exactly it.

    Ruth - I'm glad you said what you did about your kids. I get a lot of flack for spending too much time with my kids. My kids are little and they will only want to spend this much time with me for a small time. I want to spend as much of it with them as I can. Winds change, time moves on, and you can't get those moments back.

  7. Orphanages is exactly right. Check out some long term research on orphans adopted abroad from Romania.

    I remember learning about Harlow's study. I think it's worth noting that none of the monkeys were able to develop normally, even those with the cloth mother. They couldn't assimilate into monkey groups, either It really shows how important healthy attachment is when it comes to forming a sense of self and having relationships with others.

    Unfortunately for us our N parents weren't capable of providing a nurturing environment so we could develop healthy attachments and now we're having to work through all that and catch up on our own.

    What's really sad though is those monkeys weren't able to mother their own children later on, which just goes to show how this dysfunction can be passed on through the generations. Thankfully we aren't like those monkeys; we can learn and break the cycle!


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