Logo of the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Harlow Center for Biological Psychology



Research at the Harlow Center for Biological Psychology is focused on the fields of behavioral and developmental psychology. Staff scientists obtain funding independently through competitive grants from such federal agencies as the NIMH, NIAID, and NICHD.

To further explore research at the Harlow Center, choose one of the following topics:


Current Areas of Investigation:

There are four independent research units presently active at the Harlow Center for Biological Psychology. The scientists heading these units are affiliated with the University of Wisconsin-Madison departments of psychology, psychiatry, and kinesiology. General areas currently being investigated at the Harlow Center include:

  • Neurological development
  • Visual neuroscience
  • Immunobiology
  • Psychosocial development


Examples of Research Techniques:


An MRI of a rhesus
monkey cranium Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been an important diagnostic tool in human medicine since the mid-1980s. Its value derives from the fact that MRIs can precisely reveal specific tissue within any plane of the body, reducing the need for invasive exploratory surgeries. This same property makes MRIs useful for research into primate physiology. Scientists at the Harlow Center use MRIs to routinely obtain data that would once have required more invasive methods.

MRIs are obtained by placing individuals within a magnetic field and submitting them to radio frequency pulses that temporarily affect the spin of a limited number of hydrogen atoms within the body. As these atoms revert to their typical alignment, they release stored energy that is picked up by the scanner and collected as mathematical data. Different tissue types and abnormal tissues each give off a different signal. Computers can then convert these signals into highly detailed 2- or 3-dimensional images.



An PET scan image of a
rhesus brainPET SCAN

Positron Emission Tomography is utilized by researchers at the Harlow Center to study brain development and function. Similar to MRIs, PET scans allow investigators to examine the primate brain in a noninvasive manner. While MRIs show anatomical features only, PET scans indicate chemical activity in specific brain areas. This type of neuroimaging has no long-term negative effects in people or in animals.

PET scans track the fate of injected radioactive isotopes. These isotopes are incorporated into tracer molecules, which can be measured by the PET scanner. Computers then use these measurements to construct an image, giving researchers a visual representation of neurological activity.

The image to the left shows dopamine D2 receptors which have bound to a specific radiotracer in a rhesus monkey brain.





An infant rhesus being tested by SNAPThe Schneider Neonatal Assessment Protocol (SNAP) is a modified version of the scales of human development created by Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, adapted specifically for use with infant rhesus monkeys. SNAP involves a series of observational tests designed to measure physical and neurobehavioral responses in a standardized fashion. The variables measured by these tests fall into four categories: temperament, interactive, neuromotor, and attentional. An important application of this test is to measure the newborn response to environmental stimuli. SNAP was first described by Dr. Mary Schneider and Dr. Stephen Suomi in 1992 and has since been widely used by investigators in the fields of psychobiology and toxicology.



Animal Colony:

A picture of a male rhesus monkey grooming a female
and her infantThe animal colony at the Harlow Center for Biological Psychology is comprised of rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta). All animals currently housed at the Harlow Center were born at the facility, with no wild-caught primates having been imported to the colony for over 20 years. All aspects of animal care and all research protocols are monitored at both the university and the federal level to ensure compliance with the Animal Welfare Act and prevailing regulations.

Monkeys are socially housed whenever possible, and all animals benefit from a program of environmental enrichment. Enrichment techniques include puzzle feeders, rotating manipulanda, use of a playroom, and housing with species-appropriate structural elements, such as ramps and branches.

More information on animal research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is available on the Wisconsin Primate Research Center web site. Specific information about rhesus monkeys can be found on the WPRC rhesus monkey fact sheet page.



Opportunities for Students:

Numerous students have gained research experience through the Harlow Center for Biological Psychology. Undergraduate opportunities include internships, independent projects for course credit, and employment as a student hourly worker. Interested students should contact individual researchers for more information.

Students interested in conducting graduate studies at the Harlow Center should contact the UW-Madison Department of Psychology or The Graduate School for further information.