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he 20th century will live in infamy for its scientific experiments and that is not necessarily taking into consideration the ones that had occurred during Wars. The Stanford prison experiment and Pavlo’s dog have offered a lot of new knowledge within the field of science and psychology despite the major ethical problems. One experiment that I do not see mentioned enough, yet I consider being more important than the two mentioned above is The Ape and the Child: a Study of Environmental Influence upon Early Behavior.

Winthrop Niles Kellogg was the scientist behind this experiment who decided to use his own two-year-old son as one of the participants. People like to overexaggerate when it comes to “ethical concerns” within psychological studies as in all honesty the experiment itself as you will see did not inflict any trauma on the young child nor on the chimp. The study wanted to see if a baby ape were brought up in human surroundings and treated like a human child, how far would it acquire human characteristics?

Niles Kellogg was born in 1898 in Mount Vernon, New York, and spent approximately 40 of those 74 years actively engaged in research, a career that produced more than 130 publications, including two books assured as classics by their primacy in their respective areas, if not in fact by their quality as experimental investigations. His life as a scholar and scientist had been highly acclaimed as well as criticized, especially due to the nature of this experiment.

His son, Donald Kellogg was born in 1929, and since his birth came to Niles Kellogg to do this experiment. He was always fascinated at looking at the psychological similarities between animals and humans as that is where the human species evolved from according to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution which is proven by these sorts of experiments, especially this one.

The experiment

“Suppose an anthropoid were taken into a typical human family at the day of birth and reared as a child. Suppose he were fed upon a bottle, clothed, washed, bathed, fondled, and given a characteristically human environment; that he were spoken to like the human infant from the moment of par-turition; that he had an adopted human mother and an adopted human father . . . . The experimental situation par excellence should indeed be attained if this technique were refined one step farther by adopting such a baby ape into a human family with one child of approximately the ape’s age.” (Quote by Winthrop Niles Kellogg/ Psychological review (1931b) page 168)

W. N. Kellogg holding Gua, 1932. (Source: Yale University Library)

Scientific or academic experiments were very different 100 years ago, you didn’t have to complete a million ethical forms to do a study. You would just do the study, write a paper on it and publish it. That is pretty much how this experiment went and the reason why it had received so much criticism. In 1931 when Donald was about two and a half years old, his father introduced him to a baby chimp named Gua and told him that this would be his sister.

From 1931 to 1932, Donald and Gua had been raised exactly the same from every perspective. They were given the same amount of attention and love from both parents, the same diet, and similar interactions. Kellogg knew from his early studies that the behavior defined within a wild animal isn’t necessarily natural, but implied by parents from a very young age based on the surroundings the animal child is raised in.

Donald and Gua playing together in 1931 (Source: Yale University Library)

Like most wild animals, they are brought up in a very violent and primitive environment, but that does not mean they do not have the potential to be brought up in a civilized manner, and that is what the experiment proved. Gua had learned whilst being raised with Donald to play like a human child without using his violent animal instincts. He had also learned to share every toy and treat with Donald as they were brought up as sibilings.

Gua and Donald holding hand before nap time in 1932 (Source: Yale University Library)

Another interesting aspect to be noted between the two is that they never made a difference (at least from a psychological perspective) that they were different. Even Kellogg was surprised with the intelligence presented by the baby chimp and even how she managed to present a more rapid rate of development. Donald was superior in strength and co-ordination.

Sister Gua with Brother Donald out for a stroll in 1931 (Source: Yale University Library)

The study also focused on their sensory and motor capacities, their power of learning as well as their rate of maturation. Although Donald was two and a half years old and Gua was seven months old, she was also around two years old in human years. Four videos have been captured showing the different stages of the experiment.

What had the experiment proven?

Within one of the videos, you can see a great example of the similarities between sensory and motor capacitors, for example, their reaction to being tickled. One aspect that was not expected was for Gua to surpass the potential of Donald. It seems that Gua was more intelligent at that age than a human because of a more rapid rate of development. That is sort of what started the problematic ethical views once this fact hit the headlines of newspapers around the world.

Article from Reuters 1933 July 27 (Source Reuters)

The rapid rate of development presented in Gua is actually natural to a wild animal. This is because of their natural surroundings and the way animals are brought up. A human bay is always safe from danger compared to a wild animal baby. In order for a baby chimp to survive out there in the wilderness, it must catch on quickly as it won’t always be protected.

Besides the great abilities of a wild animal baby, the experiment proved that chimps at a young age have a great deal of potential when brought up in a civilized environment. This is because they are the ancestors of humans. We have evolved from apes and the behavior presented at an early stage shows. Small changes from generation to generation based on the changes of the ecosystem had led towards a never-ending process of biological evolution.

About a year during the experiment, Kellogg was afraid that Donald may get too attached to Gua, so he took Gua back to the primate center from where she adopted her. Gua died at a young age from pneumonia. Donald, due to his young age at the time was not affected nor does he have many memories of Gua. This shows that Kellogg was aware of the ethical implications and respected them, especially knowing that his son was one of the participants.

Therefore I do not see why we cannot have similar experiments to this day or why they are deemed unethical. The contributions that this experiment had brought to the field of psychology and biology are incredible and in my opinion, underappreciated.

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