Animal Writes
© sm
24 January 2001 Issue
Raised in Fear

by Scott Lustig

For more than 30 years at the State University of New York (SUNY) Health Science Center in Brooklyn, Professor Leonard Rosenblum has been tearing baby monkeys away from their mothers to study the effects of maternal deprivation on the development of panic and other anxiety disorders in children, and to investigate the workings of these disorders. But 50 years of research from clinical (human) studies have already demonstrated that children raised in stressful conditions and denied their mother's attention are more likely to develop anxiety disorders in later life. Still, the monkey experiments continue at huge public expense. Since 1990, Rosenblum has collected more than $2.5 million in taxpayers' money, mostly in the form of National Institutes of Health grants.

In his most common experiments on monkey “models,” Rosenblum forces macaque mothers and infants to live with unpredictable access to food. At first, the mothers find food easily. Then, the food is hidden and dispersed, making it hard to gather. The mother monkeys must repeatedly endure this alternating access. Unable to feed their infants regularly, the mothers suffer constant anxiety. The babies, deprived of their mothers, become isolated and withdrawn. These normally playful and curious infants sit hunched over, crying, shaking, and clasping themselves. When the infants' mother returns, they cling to her desperately, never knowing when she will unpredictably be forced away from them again.

Rosenblum's experiments began in the 1960s when it was thought that monkey experimentation would shed light on the association between maternal deprivation and psychological distress in humans, first identified by researchers in the 1940s and ’50s. Since then, infant monkeys have been subjected to numerous cruelties in the name of "research," all varying in the nature of the deprivation and isolation forced upon them. Infant monkeys have been given artificial "puppet" mothers that are manipulated by researchers. In some experiments, the puppets’ body temperatures are made ice cold, preventing the infants from clinging to them. Other artificial "mothers" have been constructed of sandpaper or other uncomfortable materials, and some mechanical "mothers" even dislodged the clinging infants with hidden spikes, catapults, compressed air, or vigorous shaking.

Researchers have also placed mother-deprived infants with a series of foster mothers, preventing the infant monkeys from ever experiencing any real bonding or maternal care. In one of the most egregious of maternal deprivation experiments, during the early 1970s, the University of Wisconsin's Harry Harlow confined infant monkeys alone for weeks in metal isolation chambers. Harlow himself referred to these chambers as "a modified form of sadism."

At Emory University in Georgia, Charles Nemeroff, Paul Plotsky, Charlotte Ladd, and others are studying the mechanisms of certain brain chemicals involved in producing the distress reaction to maternal deprivation. These experiments have included subjecting monkeys to the same model of
unpredictable food access "perfected" by Rosenblum. At the University of Wisconsin, Gary Kraemer deprives female infant marmoset monkeys of maternal attention in order to study the neurochemical reasons why girls who are raised abusively and neglectfully tend to become abusive and neglectful themselves as mothers.

Animal advocates and a growing number of scientists have criticized such experiments. According to Stephen Suomi, Ph.D, a maternal deprivation researcher at the National Institute for Child Health and Development, "Most monkey data...have only verified principles that have already been formulated from previous human data. To date the monkey data have added little to knowledge of mother-infant interactions." Murry Cohen, M.D., a psychiatrist and director of the Medical Research Modernization Committee, says that "Rosenblum knows that the diagnostic symptoms of panic disorder (e.g., palpitations, sensation of respiratory distress, feeling of choking, chest pain...feeling of loss of control, fear of dying, numbness) simply cannot be assessed in monkeys because these symptoms must be subjectively experienced and reported by the patient rather than observed by the clinician. The diagnosis, then, cannot, by definition, be given to non-human primates."

Among Cohen's other arguments are that monkeys differ in reactions to maternal deprivation depending on their species, making it impossible to determine which species is the closest “model” for humans. Moreover, Cohen argues that in addition to the stress they suffer from deprivation experiments, the monkeys suffer further from the injections, restraining jackets, and other devices and tests they are forced to undergo. Laboratory stressors such as transport and handling, artificial lighting, caging, noise levels, and chemical sterilizers also influence the monkeys' behavior and physiology, distorting the research results.

The gamut of maternal deprivation experiments, including Rosenblum’s, are fraught with conflicting and inconsistent data, according to Martin Stephens, Ph.D., vice president for animal research issues at The Humane Society of the United States. Stephens writes in a critique that in the majority of experiments, the monkeys' responses have contrasted widely with what the researchers had expected based upon information from previous experiments. He stated, “Skepticism of animal models should remain firm. First, experiments have had very little clinical impact. Second, they siphon money away from acceptable research on the human condition. Third, they subject animals to harsh treatment.” Neal Barnard, M.D., a psychiatrist and president of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, agrees. “The time is long past when such experiments, which cause considerable distress in animals, are tolerable,” he says. "These vaguely rationalized and obviously distressing experiments should not have been done."

Even Rosenblum himself has cast doubt on his research, writing in *a 1995 issue of Psychiatric Clinics of North America, "Because of limitations imposed on the interpretation of behaviors observed in nonverbal primate subjects, extrapolations of primate findings to human panic and anxiety should be made with caution." The British medical journal The Lancet stated succinctly in October 1998 that "animal models of anxiety cannot substitute for clinical [human] studies."

Currently, 16 million Americans suffer from panic and other anxiety disorders. Thankfully, many are getting help through therapy and medication -- treatments developed through clinical studies. But while Rosenblum's research continues to attract large amounts of funding, the needs of many human patients go unmet. Even though one of the stated purposes of Rosenblum's research is to help children suffering from anxiety disorders, the New York Times reported last December that nearly 400 severely mentally ill children in New York are on waiting lists to enter residential treatment facilities, "but cannot be admitted because the existing facilities are filled to capacity. They are languishing in hospitals, foster care, or jail."

Funding shortages also hamper the provision of clinical treatment services such as outpatient therapy, medication, mobile crisis teams, and day treatment -- all increasing the risk that children with anxiety disorders will experience suicide, school violence, juvenile crime, and family breakup.

Criticism of animal models is further justified by the availability of technologies in brain imaging, such as positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), which are providing more accurate data on human brain processes. As the mental disorders research community has become more familiar with the usefulness of these devices, it has become more outspoken in admitting to the weakness of animal models, while at the same time advocating for further study into the potential of other non-animal research tools. According to an editorial in the May 1999 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, "From reliance on animal models of psychopathology with all of their shortcomings, the field has evolved to the use of multidisciplinary techniques, of which functional brain imaging represents one of the most promising."

The SUNY Health Science Center would do much more to honor its "commitment to confront the health problems of urban communities," as expressed in its mission statement, by terminating Rosenblum's studies and further directing its resources and expertise to current human mental health needs. Then, the macaque infants and mothers who have spent so much of their lives in small, desolate cages can gain their freedom, and the medical and governmental bodies charged with responding to human needs can better promote public health.

Law student Scott Lustig works as a case manager for people with developmental disabilities, and also is a co-leader with Urban Action Engine, Inc. in a campaign against psychological experiments on monkeys at SUNY.

Your Agenda:
Contact Dr. John C. LaRosa, President,
SUNY Health Science Center,
450 Clarkson Ave.,
Brooklyn, NY 11203;
(718) 270-2611; fax: (718) 270-4732;

John W. Ryan, Chancellor,
State University of New York,
SUNY Plaza,
Albany, NY 12246;
(518) 443-5157.

Tell them to end Rosenblum's cruel and wasteful experiments and direct the resources of SUNY's Health Science Center to services for and research with human anxiety disorder patients.

To read the abstracts to Rosenblum's studies online, visit Medline at  To read the abstracts to Rosenblum's studies, use the Medline database on the National Library of Medicine site at  Cohen's critique is available at

“Reprinted with permission from The Animals’ Agenda, P.O. Box 25881,
Baltimore, MD 21224; (410) 675-4566;”
Email: [email protected] 

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