St. Paul's Collegiate
7 Jan 2013 3 Contributors
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By Talia Joubert
Brigidine College
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US Experiment on infants withholding affection

US Experiment on infants withholding affection

A few months ago I started researching the whole concept of how 'positive love' helps individuals thrive while 'negative love' (abuse, neglect etc) results in illicit drug use, self inflicted harm, homelessness etc; my Honours Co-ordinator mentioned an experiment that was conducted in the US on babies that were cared for physiologically, strictly withholding all sources of affection. This naturally, resulted in death. I was planning to write about this as part of my research but am struggling to find solid sources... I have put together what I believe is accurate, but it is only based on recounts of multiple 1st year psychology students that have been taught about this experiment and are seeking further information aswell.

This is what I have come up with; If you have any sites I may be able to use, that would be helpful. I have found sites related to Harlow's experiment on rhesus monkeys, separating them at birth and also with holding affection but would prefer to use a living human example to express it more realistically; a case study such as this (even though slightly disturbing). Any other feedback or case study suggestions are welcome :)


In the United States, 1944, an experiment was conducted on 40 newborn infants to determine whether individuals could thrive alone on basic physiological needs without affection. Twenty newborn infants were housed in a special facility where they had caregivers who would go in to feed them, bathe them and change their diapers, but they would do nothing else. The caregivers had been instructed not to look at or touch the babies more than what was necessary, never communicating with them. All their physical needs were attended to scrupulously and the environment was kept sterile, none of the babies becoming ill.

The experiment was halted after four months, by which time, at least half of the babies had died at that point. At least two more died even after being rescued and brought into a more natural familial environment. There was no physiological cause for the babies' deaths; they were all physically very healthy. Before each baby died, there was a period where they would stop verbalizing and trying to engage with their caregivers, generally stop moving, nor cry or even change expression; death would follow shortly. The babies who had "given up" before being rescued, died in the same manner, even though they had been removed from the experimental conditions.

The conclusion was that nurturing is actually a very vital need in humans. Whilst this was taking place, in a separate facility, the second group of twenty newborn infants were raised with all their basic physiological needs provided and the addition of affection from the caregivers. This time however, the outcome was as expected, no deaths encountered.