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Harlow Center for Biological Psychology




Two immature rhesus
monkeys 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 psychology.



Notable Research Completed at the Harlow Center:

Dr. Harry Harlow

Dr. Harry Harlow and an infant rhesusDr. 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 new opportunities.

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).


A rhesus monkey in the

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.