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Child Dev. 1991 Jun;62(3):548-66.

Strangers in a strange land: a psychobiological study of infant monkeys before and after separation from real or inanimate mothers.

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  • 1University of Wisconsin, Harlow Primate Laboratory, Madison 53715.


Some rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta) infants have a "despair" or depression-like response to mother-infant separation, while others do not. The presumed interrelation between early rearing conditions and the neurobiological status of the infant that might lead to increased risk for despair is not understood. In this study, the characteristics of the "mother" were controlled by rearing infant rhesus monkeys with their biological mothers, or with inanimate mothers. Behavioral data were collected before and after separation at 6-7 months of age. The neurobiological status of the infants was evaluated by measuring the concentration of norepinephrine, its major metabolite, and the metabolites of dopamine and serotonin in cerebrospinal fluid. The results suggest that despair is not simply a behavioral response to separation. Instead, despair may reflect the inability to cope with the separation environment. Coping with the separation environment appears to depend on neurobiological and behavioral characteristics of the infant that are related to, if not determined by, characteristics of the mother.

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