snopes.com  

Go Back   snopes.com > Urban Legends > Medical

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 09 February 2011, 03:35 AM
Halfmad Halfmad is offline
 
Join Date: 21 September 2006
Location: Seattle, WA
Posts: 109
Icon97 Psych experiment where affection was withheld from babies

I was reading through some comments on another site I frequent and one of the commenters posted this about an experiment s/he remembered reading about in child psychology class. However, s/he followed up an hour or two later saying that s/he checked but couldn't find it in his/her psych book, but still believes it's true. Well, I can't find anything like this (except involving monkeys) online and I couldn't find it on Snopes either -- I searched, so apologies if I missed it.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?


Twenty newborn infants were housed in a special facility. 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 was necessary, and they never spoke to them. All their physical needs were attended to scrupulously, however. The environment was kept sterile; the babies were never ill.

The experiment was halted after four months. 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 normal 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 their caregivers, and just stop moving, never cry or 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.
Reply With Quote
  #2  
Old 09 February 2011, 03:42 AM
Simply Madeline's Avatar
Simply Madeline Simply Madeline is offline
 
Join Date: 15 October 2005
Location: Chicago, IL
Posts: 9,389
Default

Was it perhaps the Harlow experiments on rhesus monkeys?

http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~adoptio.../HarlowMLE.htm

Quote:
He separated infant monkeys from their mothers a few hours after birth, then arranged for the young animals to be “raised” by two kinds of surrogate monkey mother machines, both equipped to dispense milk. One mother was made out of bare wire mesh. The other was a wire mother covered with soft terry cloth. Harlow’s first observation was that monkeys who had a choice of mothers spent far more time clinging to the terry cloth surrogates, even when their physical nourishment came from bottles mounted on the bare wire mothers. This suggested that infant love was no simple response to the satisfaction of physiological needs. Attachment was not primarily about hunger or thirst. It could not be reduced to nursing.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 09 February 2011, 03:55 AM
Veruca's Avatar
Veruca Veruca is offline
 
Join Date: 07 August 2008
Location: Houston, TX
Posts: 625
Default

According to my Googling, there is a persistent story about a "Russian baby experiment" like the one you describe. However, there is no evidence I can find that anything like this actually happened.

The closest research I can find is that of Rene Spitz (wiki article) who researched infants living in institutions. According to this site, he found that:

Quote:
The babies raised in the nursing home environment suffered seriously. More than a third died. Twenty-one were still living in institutions after 40 years. Most were physically, mentally, and socially retarded.
However, he never conducted an experiment with a control group like the one described in the OP.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 09 February 2011, 04:01 AM
me, no really's Avatar
me, no really me, no really is offline
 
Join Date: 02 June 2005
Location: Brisbane, Australia
Posts: 2,388
Default

I don't think it's ever been done as an experiment on humans. There have been studies that compared the results of the standard care provided in different orphanages.

This page has some info:

Quote:
The unfortunate reality of overcrowded orphanages provides indirect support for the negative impact of touch deprivation. Recently, researchers observed the development of infants raised in orphanages where the ratio of care providers to infants was low (9). While infants were appropriately fed, most often they were left alone in their cribs with minimal or no physical contact with the care providers. These children suffered from severe delays in physical growth and neurobehavioral development, and elevated rates of serious infections. Although these case studies suggest a link between tactile deprivation and developmental delays, findings should be interpreted with caution as several other factors may have had an impact on development.
The reference for the above information comes from:

(9) Albers, Lisa H. Johnson, Dana E., and Hostetter, Margaret K. “Health of Children Adopted from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe: Comparison with Preadoptive Medical Records.” Journal of the Medical Association 278.11 (1997): 922-924.

me
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 09 February 2011, 04:09 AM
Halfmad Halfmad is offline
 
Join Date: 21 September 2006
Location: Seattle, WA
Posts: 109
Default

Thank you, thank you. I did come across some information about Romanian orphanages that sounds very much like you're describing. Horrible, but not a planned experiment. Thanks.

ETA: This looks like the most likely source for that story:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maternal_deprivation

Last edited by Halfmad; 09 February 2011 at 04:19 AM.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 09 February 2011, 12:55 PM
Malruhn Malruhn is offline
 
 
Join Date: 28 November 2003
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 7,854
Default

One of my Psych professors at college said that he had studied under B.F. Skinner, and that when he couldn't take it any more, he bolted - and "damn the consequences".

With the vitriole that he displayed when he spoke of Skinner, I had believed the UL until I was snope-ified.

I would think that this mention was related to the Skinner UL.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 09 February 2011, 01:16 PM
tagurit's Avatar
tagurit tagurit is offline
 
Join Date: 24 March 2000
Location: SE Michigan
Posts: 14,057
Default

I read that [op] story in some rag when babysitting in my early teens. That may be where it originated.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 09 February 2011, 06:02 PM
Embra's Avatar
Embra Embra is offline
 
Join Date: 01 June 2000
Location: Surrey, UK
Posts: 7,747
Default

Also sounds like language deprivation experiments:

Quote:
The experiments were recorded by the monk Salimbene di Adam in his Chronicles, who wrote that Frederick [II] bade "foster-mothers and nurses to suckle and bathe and wash the children, but in no ways to prattle or speak with them; for he would have learnt whether they would speak the Hebrew language (which had been the first), or Greek, or Latin, or Arabic, or perchance the tongue of their parents of whom they had been born. But he laboured in vain, for the children could not live without clappings of the hands, and gestures, and gladness of countenance, and blandishments."
(my bold)
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 10 February 2011, 09:40 PM
Tahanala
 
Posts: n/a
Default

I'd been told the same about Nazi Germany babies, where nice Aryan women would be inseminated by strong Aryan men in order to produce superior babies as fast as possible. I was told the attempt had failed because the babies were to be raised in institutions so the mothers would yield as many offspring as possible, and they died off because of this deprivation despite their basic needs being met.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 27 April 2011, 08:07 AM
Rockygurl2
 
Posts: n/a
Flame Babies withheld any kind of love

I remember in HS, reading in my Psychology class about the same Russian test. All any American adoptive parents can attest to the mental problems most adopted Russian babies or young children have. There have been articles where the parents sent the children back to Russia, as they were abusive to any children in their new American homes, or were abusive to their American parents once they began to walk and talk. They didn't know what love was, what the holding and loving was, as they had never had it and if you see pictures of Russian Orphanages, you only see enough women dressed in Nursing Dresses to care for a roomful of babies, toddlers and young children.

How anyone can do that to a human being is beyond me, but I suppose different countries have different rules when it comes to raising babies. I would also assume from some of the articles, some of the babies were under six months and should have responded to their new parents, but many or most of the children in the Russian Orphanages came from Mothers who were drug users and alcoholics, which plays a huge role in a developing fetus. It occurs to babies born to drug and alcohol use in American hospitals all the time, these poor babies have to go through withdrawal thanks to their selfish mothers.

Women like they are should be forced to have a Hysterectomy if they continue to use drugs and alcohol, and continue to have children they can't care for.
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 27 April 2011, 08:04 PM
Buckle Up's Avatar
Buckle Up Buckle Up is offline
 
Join Date: 23 October 2006
Location: New Mexico
Posts: 6,164
Soapbox

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rockygurl2 View Post
It occurs to babies born to drug and alcohol use in American hospitals all the time, these poor babies have to go through withdrawal thanks to their selfish mothers. Women like they are should be forced to have a Hysterectomy if they continue to use drugs and alcohol, and continue to have children they can't care for.
I certainly understand the frustration, and the good intentions, but forcing surgery on a woman, especially one who is ill and unable to make good decisions, is not a good idea and not the way to help anyone. For starters, better funding of drug addiction treatment in the public sector, including long-term housing and counseling, not just detox, would result in a much happier ending for parents and their children.
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 27 April 2011, 11:49 PM
ganzfeld's Avatar
ganzfeld ganzfeld is offline
 
Join Date: 05 September 2005
Location: Kyoto, Japan
Posts: 19,465
Bonsai Kitten

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rockygurl2 View Post
How anyone can do that to a human being is beyond me, but I suppose different countries have different rules when it comes to raising babies.
Most people suppose so. That's one reason this (rather typical) urban legend survives.
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 28 April 2011, 12:18 AM
crocoduck_hunter's Avatar
crocoduck_hunter crocoduck_hunter is offline
 
Join Date: 27 May 2009
Location: Roseburg, OR
Posts: 7,229
Default

That and there are a lot of people ready to believe that scientists are all secretly amoral or immoral individuals who read too much Nietzsche.
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 28 April 2011, 12:43 AM
Dropbear's Avatar
Dropbear Dropbear is offline
 
Join Date: 03 June 2005
Location: Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Posts: 7,146
Australia

Especially communist scientists.

Dropbear
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 27 May 2011, 04:56 PM
DonMerlin
 
Posts: n/a
Default Affection withheld from babies experiment

Quote:
Originally Posted by Halfmad View Post
I was reading through some comments on another site I frequent and one of the commenters posted this about an experiment s/he remembered reading about in child psychology class. However, s/he followed up an hour or two later saying that s/he checked but couldn't find it in his/her psych book, but still believes it's true. Well, I can't find anything like this (except involving monkeys) online and I couldn't find it on Snopes either -- I searched, so apologies if I missed it.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?


Twenty newborn infants were housed in a special facility. 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 was necessary, and they never spoke to them. All their physical needs were attended to scrupulously, however. The environment was kept sterile; the babies were never ill.

The experiment was halted after four months. 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 normal 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 their caregivers, and just stop moving, never cry or 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.
This does sound familiar to me. When I went to Santa Clara Univ, I took one psychology class in my first year, 1980, and I do distinctly remember this case study. There was also a control group of babies that received affection. The results were as you stated.

It has haunted me ever since about the "half the babies died" result. I have recently been trying to find out more about this experiment, but have come up empty. The new professors at the university also do not recall it. I, however, can never forget it, so if you end up finding more, I would like to to know.

It was definitely not an experiment on Monkeys or Russians. It was done here in the US, some time in the 1960's.
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 13 June 2011, 05:30 PM
cehrriins's Avatar
cehrriins cehrriins is offline
 
Join Date: 28 April 2011
Location: Houston, TX
Posts: 813
Default

Hmm. I took Intro to Psych last term, and there was nothing about actual studies such as this being done on babies anywhere. In fact, it was leaning more towards the opposite - that scientists just couldn't do experiments on babies like this.

There was mention of cases of abuse where babies were deprived of love and communication and how they fared after the abuse was uncovered. The end result for these unfortunate children was pretty much in line with the OP. . .they weren't dead, but they weren't living anything resembling a life. Barely an existence, really.
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 13 June 2011, 07:35 PM
RivkahChaya's Avatar
RivkahChaya RivkahChaya is offline
 
Join Date: 14 July 2006
Location: Indiana
Posts: 12,275
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rockygurl2 View Post
I remember in HS, reading in my Psychology class about the same Russian test. All any American adoptive parents can attest to the mental problems most adopted Russian babies or young children have. There have been articles where the parents sent the children back to Russia, as they were abusive to any children in their new American homes, or were abusive to their American parents once they began to walk and talk.
-snip-

How anyone can do that to a human being is beyond me, but I suppose different countries have different rules when it comes to raising babies. I would also assume from some of the articles, some of the babies were under six months and should have responded to their new parents, but many or most of the children in the Russian Orphanages came from Mothers who were drug users and alcoholics, which plays a huge role in a developing fetus. It occurs to babies born to drug and alcohol use in American hospitals all the time, these poor babies have to go through withdrawal thanks to their selfish mothers.
You are making some big assumptions there.

Russia does not have programs or facilities to help families in crisis, for the most part, but more importantly, their are not programs to help families with difficult children. Children who might have emerging problems like autism, ADHD, or other developmental problems, that might be mild enough to be not readily apparent, and might be ameliorated by early intervention in the US, are impossible to families without support, and trying to work and care for other children, to deal with. So a lot those children end up in orphanages. Some might be voluntarily relinquished, and some might be removed, because they been abused, but at any rate, there's good reason to think that children in Ruissian orphanages had problems already, when they first got there.

Russia actually knows how to run very good preschool programs for non-disabled kids who have been with their parents or grandparents (it's pretty common for Russian kids to live with their retired grandparents, who often retire in their 50s with a state pension, while both parents work full time). My brother went to a Russian preschool for a year when he was 4, and he loved it. I visited a few times. They atmosphere was warm, friendly, on not high-pressure academic-oriented. He did have dancing lessons every week, where he had to learn to box step, while wearing short pants, a pressed shirt, and a little bow tie. I have a picture.

[/hijack]

One genuine, albeit accidental, experiment in touch deprivation, was David Vetter, "The Boy in the Bubble." His life suggests that physical and cognitive development can be relatively normal without touch, but you can still have some real emotional problems. Of course, being in a confined space all your life doesn't help.

Something my high school phych teacher told me about was that in the 1980s, when I was in high school, the first experiments were being done in letting parents of premature babies touch their babies. Before that, the babies were kept in incubators that were sterile as possible. But controlled (obviously not blinded, though) experiments suggested that preemies who were stroked and, if possible, cradled, gained weight faster, and had fewer infections, than babies in the normal sterile conditions. Parents still had to scrub their hands, and wear clean gowns, before touching the babies, and wear masks sometimes, but they talked to the babies, and cared for them when possible, doing diaper changes, and other things. Apparently the results were so good, that even while logitudinal studies were still in the planning stages, hospitals were already switching over the way they dealt with preemies.
Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On

Forum Jump

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Rat experiment with corn flakes rhiandmoi Food 7 02 April 2010 03:21 PM
French bread spiked with LSD in CIA experiment snopes Spook Central 5 14 March 2010 10:43 AM
1920 - 1983 Babies BringTheNoise Glurge Gallery 26 25 March 2009 08:01 AM
Woman held captive in alien breeding experiment barbrainey Spook Central 23 12 September 2008 11:31 PM
Old Wives' Tales about babies mela681 Old Wives' Tales 27 05 September 2007 09:27 PM


All times are GMT. The time now is 08:33 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.