The History of Animal Research and Human Emotions

My work in this area focuses on the use of non-human animals as models for understanding human behavior. 

Selected Publications

  • “The “Disadapted” Animal: Niko Tinbergen on Human Nature and the Human Predicament,” Journal of the History of Biology

For many years, Nobel Prize winner Niko Tinbergen argued that one could not use results from animal research to explain human behavior. However, in the 1960s, he changed his mind for several reasons: his concern about what he called ‘‘the human predicament,’’ his relations with British child psychiatrist John Bowlby, the popular success of ethological explanations of human behavior, and his professional and personal situation. I argue that Tinbergen’s vision of human nature constitutes another version of what anthropologist Clifford Geertz called in 1966 the ‘‘stratigraphic’’ conception of the human: a view of human nature as a composite of levels in which a universal ancestral biological core is superimposed by psychological and cultural layers that represent accidental variation at best and pathological deviation at worst.

  • ‘‘‘The Father of Ethology and the Foster Mother of Ducks’: Konrad Lorenz as an Expert on Motherhood,” ISIS (2009) 100 (2): 263-291. dfgfsgsfdg

Austrian animal researcher Konrad Lorenz was widely popular in the United States. This has to be understood in the context of social concern about the mother-infant dyad after World War II. Child psychoanalysts David Levy, Rene Spitz, Margarethe Ribble, Therese Benedek, and John Bowlby maintained that many psychopathologies were caused by a disruption in the mother-infant bond. Lorenz extended his work on imprinting in ducks to humans and argued that maternal care was also instinctual. Amidst the Cold War emphasis on rebuilding an emotionally sound society, these views received widespread attention. Thus, Lorenz built on the social popularity of psychoanalysis at the time, while psychoanalysts gained legitimacy by drawing on the scientific authority of biology. Lorenz’s work was central in a rising discourse that blamed the mother for emotional degeneration and helped him recast his eugenic fears in a socially acceptable way.

  • “Mothers, Machines, And Morals: Harry Harlow’s Work on Primate Love From Lab to Legend,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences (2009) 45 (3): 193-218.
  • “The Evolution of Harry Harlow: From the Nature to the Nurture of Love,” History of Psychiatry (2010) 21 (2): 1-16.

In the two papers cited above, I argue that Harlow deserves a place in the early history of evolutionary psychiatry but not, as he is commonly presented, because of his belief in the instinctual nature of the mother-infant dyad. Harlow’s work on the significance of peer relationships in rhesus monkeys led him to appreciate the evolutionary significance of separate affectional systems. Over time, Harlow distanced himself from the ideas of John Bowlby as well as from Konrad Lorenz’s views about imprinting and instincts. 

  • “Cold War Emotions: Mother Love and The War over Human Nature,” Mark Solovey and Hamilton Cravens (eds.), Cold War Social Science. NY: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2012, 233-249.