Love Poems About Elephant Skin, Rhino Skin, Hippo Skin, and Snake Skin – For Science

I’ve been reading some of Harry Harlow’s papers, and am in wonder at his seminal “The Nature of Love,” his 1958 Presidential Lecture to the American Psychological Association, to what had to be a stunned room, about cloth-versus-wire mesh monkey mother studies with which he famously kicked aside a behaviorist view of infant love and replaced it with a view foundational to attachment theory. In this studies, he and his lab members showed that an infant monkey would vastly prefer spending time with a cloth-covered mother surrogate rather than a wire-mesh surrogate, regardless of which dispensed milk (as below). From this experiment (and, later, others) he argued that the infant’s love for its mother is not, as behaviorist dicta of the time asserted, a “secondary drive”  derived from the love of milk, but an attachment of its own just as vital. Or as he put it in the talk, “The baby, human or monkey, if it is to survive, must clutch at more than a straw.”


Deborah Blum, lately famous for her marvelously creepy The Poisoner’s Handbook. writes brilliantly about Harlow in her indispensible Love at Goon Park. As she notes there many times, Harlow was a provocative, often wildly entertaining speaker. He’s in top form in this address, getting right in the face of those he wants to displace.

I’ll deal with that talk at more length in my book (which is why I’m currently buried in both Harlow’s paper and my book). But for now I want to share one of the delightful oddities of this talk, which is Harlow’s use of pictures and poems, of his own authoring for God’s sake, to illustrate the primacy of infant-parent bonds in species other than humans and rhesus monkeys. To repeat: Lacking experimental evidence, he used poems. We need more of this.

“We believe that contact comfort has long served the animal kingdom as a motivating agnet for affectional purposes,” he says. “Since at the present time we have no experimental data to substantiate this position, we supply information which must be accepted, if at all, on the basis of face validity.

Then he brings the hippos:


and the rhinos:


and elephants:


and does not forget the snakes: