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June 2000
Raised in Fear: Monkey Experiments are Funded at Taxpayers’ Expense

By Scott Lustig



For over 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 induce anxiety, panic and depression. Why? 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 expense. Indeed, since 1990, Rosenblum has collected over $2.5 million in taxpayers’ money, on top of several more millions received over the last three decades. The National Institutes of Health serves as a primary public source for his funds.

Raised in Fear
In his most common experimental model, Rosenblum forces macaque monkey 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 to food. Unable to feed their infants regularly, the mothers suffer constant anxiety. The babies, in turn, deprived of their mother, become isolated and withdrawn. These normally playful, curious infant monkeys 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.

Three decades after Woodstock and Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, Rosenblum’s severely painful and invasive experiments are continuing. He began them in the 1960s, when monkey maternal deprivation experiments were first conceived. At the time, 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, their 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 "mothers" even dislodged the clinging infants with hidden spikes, catapults, compressed air, or vigorous shaking.

Researchers have also placed mother-deprived infants with foster mothers, then repeatedly deprived them of the foster mothers and placed them with other 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 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." In addition to monkeys, other animals used in maternal deprivation research have included rats, dogs and cats.

Other researchers today besides Rosenblum perpetuate this cruel practice. At Emory University in Georgia, Charles Nemeroff, Paul Plotsky, Charlotte Ladd, and a host of other researchers are studying the mechanisms of certain brain chemicals involved in producing the distress reaction to maternal deprivation. These experiments have including subjecting monkeys to the same model of unpredictable food access "perfected" by Rosenblum. At the University of Wisconsin, Gary Kraemer deprives female infant marmosat monkeys of maternal attention in order to study the neurochemical reasons why female human children who are raised abusively and neglectfully tend to become abusive and neglectful themselves as mothers.

Conflict and Inconsistency
Animal advocates, along with a growing number of scientists, have criticized the experiments of Rosenblum and his colleagues. According to Stephen Suomi, himself a noted and continuing maternal deprivation researcher, "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." Murray Cohen, a psychiatrist and director of the Medical Research Modernization Committee, says that Rosenblum’s animal studies do not validly represent panic and other human psychological disorders. Cohen says, "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 Dr. 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 valid model for humans. Moreover, Cohen argues that aside from the stress they suffer from deprivation experiments, the monkeys suffer additional stress from the injections, restraining jackets, and other devices and tests they are forced to undergo. Also stressful are the standard conditions of the lab, including repeated transport and handling, artificial lighting, caging, noise levels and chemical sterilizers. These types of laboratory stressors influence the monkeys’ behavior and physiology, distorting the research results.

The gamut of maternal deprivation experiments, including those being conducted by Rosenblum, are fraught with conflicting and inconsistent data, according to Martin Stephens, Vice President for Animal Research Issues at the Humane Society of the United States. Stephens states that in the majority of experiments, the monkeys’ responses have contrasted widely with what the researchers’ had expected based upon information from previous experiments. "The time is long past when such experiments, which cause considerable distress in animals, are tolerable," says Neal Barnard, psychiatrist and president of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. "These vaguely rationalized and obviously distressing experiments should not have been done."

Even Rosenblum himself has cast doubt on his own research, writing in 1995: "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." (Psychiatric Clinics of North America) And, cementing the fundamentally weak usefulness of Rosenblum’s studies for making sound contributions to understanding of panic and other anxiety disorders, the esteemed British medical journal The Lancet stated succinctly, "animal models of anxiety cannot substitute for clinical [human] studies." (10/3/98)

Money Wasted, Human Needs Unmet
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 with humans, not animals. But while Rosenblum’s research continues to attract large amounts of funding, the needs of many human anxiety disorder sufferers 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 State alone (where Rosenblum works) 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." (12/24/99)

Shortages of funding also hamper provision of clinical treatment services like 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 break-up.

Criticism of animal models is further justified by the availability today of technologies in brain imaging, like 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 American Journal of Psychiatry (May, 1999), "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."

It is past time for the termination of Leonard Rosenblum’s 30-plus years of experimentation, which has contributed so little to our understanding of human panic and anxiety and yet cost so much—millions of public dollars, significant numbers of animal lives, and incalculable amounts of animal suffering. SUNY Health Science Center would do much more to honor its "commitment to confront the health problems of urban communities," as expressed in their mission statement, by terminating Rosenblum’s studies and further directing its resources and its considerable expertise to current human mental health needs. Then, the macaque monkeys—infants and their mothers—who have spent so much of their lives in Rosenblum’s lab in small, desolate cages, can gain their freedom and touch the ground and see the sun. By affirming policies that are just, humane, and responsive to human needs, we can truly promote public health.

What You Can Do
Contact: Dr. John C. LaRosa, President, SUNY Health Science Center, 450 Clarkson Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11203 ; Tel: 718-270-2611; Fax: 718-270-4732, and John W. Ryan, Chancellor, State University of New York, SUNY Plaza, Albany, NY 12246; Tel: 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 anxiety disorder patients. Also contact your federal and (if you are a New York resident) state representatives and urge them to stop the use of taxpayers’ money for Rosenblum’s and other maternal deprivation studies. Tell them that such money would be better spent meeting current human needs.

You can read the abstracts to Rosenblum’s studies on-line: visit MedLine at Murray Cohen’s extensive critique is available at: www.mrmcmed/mom.html.

Scott Lustig lives in New York City. He is a co-leader with Urban Action Engine, Inc. of this campaign against psychological experiments on monkeys at the SUNY Health Science Center in Brooklyn. He works as a case manager for people with developmental disabilities. Contact: or visit for information.


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