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Harry Harlow’s "The Nature of Love" stands as a classic report of research and also as evidence of the
author’s wit and his willingness to share his, shall we say, strongly held opinions. It was an oral address to
the convention of the American Psychological Association, and as such it has much that is humorous and
also much that is antagonistic. Put it this way: It was sure to offend nearly everybody, but presumably in a
cute, crotchety way.
Let us note that the title of the piece may be somewhat misleading for many readers. I think when I first
came across it, it made me think of romantic love. It turns out that it is about what developmental
psychologists refer to as attachment—the enduring bond between one organism and another, and, in this
case, mainly between mother and infant.
The Nature of Love
By HARRY F. HARLOW
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN
Love is a wondrous state, deep, tender, and rewarding. Because of its intimate and personal nature it is
regarded by some as an improper topic for experimental research. But, whatever our personal feelings may
be, our assigned mission as psychologists is to analyze all facets of human and animal behavior into their
component variables. So far as love or affection is concerned, psychologists have failed in this mission. The
little we know about love does not transcend simple observation, and the little we write about it has been
written better by poets and novelists. But of greater concern is the fact that psychologists tend to give
progressively less attention to a motive which pervades our entire lives. Psychologists, at least psychologists
who write textbooks, not only show no interest in the origin and development of love or affection, but they
seem to be unaware of its very existence.
The apparent repression of love by modern psychologists stands in sharp contrast with the attitude taken by
many famous and normal people. The word "love" has the highest reference frequency of any word cited in
Bartlett’s book of
It would appear that this emotion has long had a vast interest and
fascination for human beings, regardless of the attitude taken by psychologists; but the quotations cited,
even by famous and normal people, have a mundane redundancy. These authors and authorities have
stolen love from the child and infant and made it the exclusive property of the adolescent and adult.
Thoughtful men, and probably all women, have speculated on the nature of love. From the developmental
point of view, the general plan is quite clear: The initial love responses of the human being are those made
by the infant to the mother or some mother surrogate. From this intimate attachment of the child to the
mother, multiple learned and generalized affectional responses are formed.
Unfortunately, beyond these simple facts we know little about the fundamental variables underlying the