Magazines of Our Times


Gary Mitchell, Ph.D.  What Monkeys Can Tell Us About Human Violence

The Futurist April 1975


“Experiments in early social deprivation are difficult to carry out with human subjects, but several such studies have used nonhuman primates. Many of the findings support theories of early development as a cause of violence; Monkeys deprived of physical contact with other monkeys from birth grow  to be aggressive, fearful, sexually a normal adults. But there are indications that the behavior can be corrected in monkeys—and perhaps also in man” (Abstract)






Additional Commentary


Isolates are Sexually Maladjusted


“We have noted above that monkeys reared in social isolation do not develop a normal sex life. The males, in particular, indulge in excessive, compulsive masturbation, and their sexual relations with other monkeys remain abnormally low in frequency and deviant in form throughout life” (p.78)


Brutal Mothers and Violent Young


“Females raised in isolation later become thoroughly inadequate mothers. B.M Seay, now at Louisiana State University, conducted the first study of these “motherless mothers.” He found that some isolate mothers were brutal, others indifferent, toward their offspring. As a group, the motherless mothers showed less warmth and affection than did normal mothers and punished their young more frequently and more severely. Their infants would have died without human intervention.” (pp. 78-79).


Isolates Show Limited Self-Awareness


“The effects of severe social deprivation many never be totally erased, but the passage of time and interaction with younger animals and peers may make an isolate less socially maladroit and even capable of giving and receiving affection. This could of signal importance in treating pathology in adult humans and in suggesting ways to forestall the destructive acts of violence-prone adults who were affection-starved and socially deprived as children”  (p.80).


Gary Mitchell is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the California Primate Research Center, University of California, Davis, California 95616