Facility Origins and Growth
The origins of the Harlow
Center for Biological Psychology lie in the work of Dr. Harry Harlow
who founded the Psychology Primate Laboratory in 1930. After years of
gradual expansion, the lab relocated in 1950 to its current site.
Harlow acted as director of the Primate Lab from 1932-1974. Under his
stewardship, the Primate Lab developed an international reputation as
a center for research on social behavior, learning, and developmental
Notable Research Completed at the Harlow Center:
Dr. Harry Harlow
Dr. Harry Harlow is widely
recognized as one of the most significant comparative psychologists
of the 20th century. Most of his professional accomplishments were achieved
at the laboratory that now bears his name. After completing his PhD
at Stanford University, Harlow joined the psychology faculty at the
UW-Madison in 1930. He initially intended to continue his experimental studies of rat
learning, but the unexpected
closure of the Animal Psychology Laboratory left Harlow in search of
Harlow quickly recognized
both the complexity of the monkey mind and the similarity between development
in monkeys and humans. At the same time, he became interested in exploring
the origins of human learning and emotions, particularly the often scientifically
taboo subject of infant attachment and social bonding.
Harlow conducted a series
of landmark studies that involved separating infant rhesus monkeys from
their natural mothers and raising them with surrogate wire or cloth
mothers. His findings illustrated the importance of maternal and peer
contact in the development of normal social relationships.
Harlow generated over 320
publications during his career. Among the honors and awards he received
were the American Psychological Association Distinguished Psychologist
Award (1960), the National Medal of Science (1967), the American Psychological
Foundation Gold Medal (1973), and the International Award from the Kittay
Scientific Foundation (1976).
The Wisconsin General Test
Apparatus (WGTA) is a piece of laboratory equipment essential to investigations
of primate learning, which was developed and refined at the Harlow Center
over a half century ago. The original WGTA was designed in the 1930s,
largely by Drs. Paul Settlage and Walter Grether, to provide a suitable
environment for safely testing the learning capabilities of monkeys.
The WGTA was first described in the scientific literature in an article
published by Drs. Harry Harlow and John Bromer in the Psychological
Record in 1938. Since that time, numerous versions of the WGTA have
been utilized, including recent computerized model operated by monkeys
using touch screens or joysticks.
Despite the many modifications
over the years, including increased automation, certain elements of
the WGTA design remain standard. It is essentially a testing apparatus
with: (1) a stimulus tray, (2) a food reward delivered under 1-3 objects,
(3) the option to permit or deny the monkey the opportunity to observe
placement of the food reward under an object, (4) an observation interval
in which subjects can see but not displace objects, (5) a subsequent
interval in which subjects can obtain objects and food rewards, and
(6) a one-way screen for experimenter observation. This basic arrangement
allows both the researcher and the monkey to manipulate objects in a
safe and controlled environment.