Abstract # 26:

Scheduled for Thursday, August 17, 2006 10:30 AM-10:50 AM: Session 3 (Regency East #3) Oral Presentation


Gerald C. Ruppenthal's Motherless Mothers Research

S. J. Suomi
National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, Laboratory of Comparative Ethology, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-7971, USA
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     Few of Gerry Ruppenthal's research projects at the Wisconsin Primate Laboratory in the 1960’s attracted more attention, both within and outside the field of primatology, than the studies of the maternal behavior of “motherless mothers"--rhesus monkey females separated from their biological mothers at birth, hand-reared in the lab’s nursery, and then raised to adulthood without physical contact with any adults. When these females began having babies, it was obvious that most lacked even the most basic maternal skills. Initial reports of their high rates of neglecting and abusing their offspring quickly spread throughout both the human developmental and child psychiatric literature, and they are still widely cited today. What is usually not included in contemporary descriptions of this research are the findings from extensive follow-up research on these “motherless mothers” that Ruppenthal diligently pursued even after he had moved to Seattle in 1970. He and his colleagues found that (a) not all motherless mothers actually turned out to be “bad” mothers, especially if they grew up in the presence of peers, and (b) most of the motherless mothers who did neglect and/or abuse their first-born offspring demonstrated dramatic improvement in their treatment of subsequent offspring. From these findings Ruppenthal developed effective intervention procedures for minimizing the risk for poor maternal outcomes among nursery-reared female monkeys that are now widely utilized in primate research centers today