The Dark Side of Science The Horror of the Ape and The Child (1932)

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Written By Mohateasam Pavel


Throughout history stories of humans being raised by animals have fascinated mankind. The feral children have found their way into human culture throughout the ages from Tarzan all the way back to Romulus and Remus suckling from a she-wolf.

Infants seemingly offer a blank slate upon which language, culture, nationality, and morality are inscribed throughout their development. Because of this, child development is a miracle of learning, and as such, it has not only fascinated the likes of Rudyard Kipling but also that scientists.

And one such scientist would devise an experiment, but instead of putting a child into the wild to be raised by animals, turn the tables and take one of our closest relatives of the animal kingdom and raise it as a human. Today we are looking at the ape and the child experiment.

Our story starts in the Abreu colony in Cuba in 1930, with the birth of a female chimpanzee on the 15th of November. The baby chimp and her mother and father were donated to the Yerkes National Primate Research Center not long after her birth. The research center was headed by eugenicist Robert Yerkes and was used for medical research into comparative psychology. The baby Chimpanzee was given the name Gua, and in June 1931, she was forcibly removed from her mother’s cage and was sent off to a new home at the age of 7 ½ months for a comparative experiment.
Her new family was scientists Luella And Winthrop Kellogg and their 10-month son Donald. But before we carry on here’s some background to the Kelloggs and why this young chimp came into their house. Winthrop and Luella had married in 1920, the couple had met at Indiana university whilst studying. Winthrop was involved in a very diverse set of research topics, but throughout the 20s focused on conditioning and learning.

He was fascinated with the “relative influence of nature and nurture on behavior”, and if you could isolate the nurture element. What if you could raise an animal, a primate for example, in the exact same way as you would an infant, would the chimpanzee’s development change or maybe even would it begin to act like a human. He had been planning the concept of a comparative experiment during his postgraduate days at Columbia while studying for his masters in 1927. Kellogg during this time was fascinated with accounts of feral children living with wolves.
He believed the infants learned to live like wolves because that was “what their environment demanded of them”. Thus if the tables were turned a wild animal could nurture overrule hereditary and humanize it. The birth of Kellogg’s first child offered a unique opportunity, and that was to comparatively raise the child alongside a primate. Kellogg devised if he could raise a chimp with Donald their son like siblings, he could then see the nature differences.
The chimpanzee wouldn’t be a pet but treated in the exact same way as a child, they would be fed by a bottle, bathed, clothed, handled and pushed in a pram like a child. It would be induced to walk upright at the same time as a child and would be corrected in its mistakes like a human as well. The chimpanzee would also be taught and encouraged to eat with a spoon and to play like a child with children’s toys. The primate would not be allowed to learn in any other way than the human way, thus allowing the experiment maximum chance to succeed in creating a human acting chimp.
In order to facilitate his experiment, Kellogg would seek help from Yerkes. He received the Social Science Research Council fellowship to work at the Yale Anthropoid Station in Florida in order to prepare for his experiment in 1931. Needless to say this would necessitate the Kellogg family moving to florida and not long after gua the chimpanzee would join the family to start this bizarre experiment.

Gua and Donald were introduced at the ages of 7 ½ and 10 months respectively in the summer of 1931.
And In every conceivable way the two were treated by Winthrop and luella as if they were brother and sister. Straight away the Kellogg’s started noting the physical and behavioural differences between the two infants. The former was pretty easy as the two were different species with gua having longer arms than Donald and much greater physical abilities. Gua had nearly all her teeth whereas Donald only had 2.
To discover the differences physiologically and psychologically of the two Kellogg thought up some strange and somewhat cruel experiments. Kellogg took great interest in the differences in how the twos bone structures developed. To explore this Kellogg tested the differences by sound by hitting both Donald and guas head with a spoon, to try and hear a difference in the hardening of the skull. He found that Donald’s head radiated a dull thud whereas guas made a harsher sound, hinting at the chimpanzees bones being more hardened.
Bizarrely Kellogg had previously xrayed gua and already knew her bone density was equal to that of a 2 year old human. To ascertain the differences between the twos reaction times the Kellogg’s devised an interesting experiment. Both Donald and the chimpanzee were placed in front of a motion camera, this was to allow reviewing the reactions later on. After the two had settled and the camera was recording a revolver was fired in the air behind them.
Both were started and it was discovered that gua reacted more quickly than her human sibling. The experiment was repeated a few months later with 5 other children ranging in age between 17months and 8 ½ years. The basic day for both test subjects consisted of a 0700 wake up 0730 breakfast, then till 0830 sit with the adults at the breakfast table. From 0900 until lunch the morning would be filled out with controlled observations, car rides, outdoor or indoor play, photographing and various experiments.
After lunch at 1215 to 13:30, nap time followed by bath time, milk break and between 1530 and 1600 more experiments, observations, playtime and tests. To end up the day dinner at 1800 followed by bed time at 1830. The days would not always run strictly to this plan as the Kellogg’s had various different engagements. During the experiment’s initial 2 weeks Gua’s reflex behaviour was recorded.
An interesting behaviour was noted, the chimpanzee had issues in her balance after standing upright. There were two conclusions the Kellogg’s family made about this. The first being due to her still not being fully developed, but the other conclusion was that she was becoming disoriented due to having to look up at her human observers more than if she was in the wild. Possibly a bit of both as this new environment would have been confusing for her.

Gua adapted very quickly to her new sleeping arrangements, a cot was constructed and was designed to be usable for an infant child with mattress, clean linens and even night clothing. When this was temporarily removed her reaction was predictable: she began to cry out in despair. Guas reactions when sleepy were very characteristic of a human child, when picked up she would try and cuddle up and when sat up her head would nod down only to come back up started by the motion. For the first two months gua napped more than Donald, mainly after meals, as she got older she slept less in the day eventually getting to the 1 nap as outlined in the daily schedule.
Donald on the other hand was sleeping 2 or more hours in the afternoon nap time. She slept during the night without issues throughout the experiment, something that from experience isn’t something that a human child often does. But as the experiment progressed she started to make a nest with her bedding, a thing that chimpanzees do in the wild with twigs in trees. She hadn’t seen anyone else do this and thus showed the behaviour was possibly hereditary or could be perceived as an infant playing in their bed in the night.

Throughout the experiment both subjects were observed during their physical development, Donald had a walking aid stroller. This is because human infants don’t develop walking until 10 months plus. Gua on the other hand could walk by the time she was with the Kellogg’s, she also had a stroller but she used it as a toy instead of a walking aid. Interestingly gua was beginning to mimic the way humans walk, adopting an upright posture.
The chimp was showing a much quicker level of development as Donald for the age. The experiment continued to observe the differences between the two in the way they interacted with their environment. During the toddler months of childhood the beginnings of reading and language start to develop. Part of this is the ability to point at things that Interest the infant, and gua exhibited these behaviours as well.

The two infants almost right from the start of the experiment seemed to enjoy each other’s company, with Donald showing great delight in interacting with his new sister. Gua would reach out to hold hands with Donald stroking her hair. As the experiment progressed it seems like the two especially gua had become attached to each other, always making a beeline for him when he entered a room, and noticeably got more excited when playing with donald. If gua was admonished for doing something the wrong Donald would go up to her and hug the upset chimpanzee.
As Donald’s speech developed he was able to say his sister’s name. When another older child called Martha was introduced, gua behaved similarly by hugging the 3 ½ year old smelling her and holding her hand. Interestingly Gua was much more reserved and timid around the human adults, which to me seems very similar to how some human children act, loud and excited with their peers, but quiet and shy around adults. Guas actions around new adults was even more shy and even at some times seemed fearful.

The pair’s interactions with other animals was characteristically child-like, with gua stroking the next door neighbours cat, and having seemling no fear approaching adult dogs, much like a human child. But this would change at the age of 11 months, when a puppy barked at her after she had mistaken the dog running as a game of tag. From then on she became scared of almost all other animals, including chickens, cats, and even birds in the trees. Gua’s emotional responses to being admonished or punished for any number of minor behaviour infractions elicited an interesting response.
She would noticeably become distressed, and then approach the experimenters for affection or a kiss, as a form of forgiveness for committing the faux pas. This is a similar type of behaviour seen in children but comes later on in social development around the 18-24 month time frame. This showed that gua was developing faster emotionally than donald, and that she was learning very human-like behaviours. She had mastered opening doors, especially a swinging door a month before Donald however the human subject never managed to open latched doors, a feat gua had accomplished pretty quickly.
At the age of 1 year gua had figured out that light switches controlled the electric light bulbs. As such when an adult put their hand up to the switch gua would look at the light in anticipation of its illumination. The experimenters attempted to teach both how to play pat a cake, Donald picked it up rather quickly and with little prompts happily followed the game. Gua on the other hand never learned how to play properly even though she was given daily opportunities to practise.
The two subjects underwent potty training gua had more accidents than Donald and was seemingly embarrassed when she made them. Eventually she would indicate that she wanted to go to the toilet by ooing and holding her genital area. This would develop to her going to an experimenter and indicating by tugging on the adults trousers. Throughout the experiment both of the subjects Were given the opportunity to use a spoon.

And like many other observations the Kellogg’s saw that gua was way ahead in proficiency than Donald. By 13 months she was using the spoon for self feeding with little Mess in contrast Donald had mastered the skill by around 18months. Another test was devised where a reward was placed behind a wire mesh attached to a door frame. The only way to get the reward out is via the use of a hoe to drag it under a small gap in the mesh.
Although both figured out the solution at around 100 attempts gua proved to be more consistent in her success rate. The Kellogg’s wanted to probe into a vital part of the human experience next and that was something That makes us unique language. But this part would be where gua would fall behind and Donald would develop some strange new behaviours. /////// Guas language development differed to that of a human child, in the sense that she would communicate her wants physically like pointing to her mouth for food.

As we saw before with her potty training the need to empty her bowls was indicated non verbally. This was the same for when she wanted to play by grabbing with 1 or both hands her intended playmate. She would also pull experimenters’ hands to items she needed help with. The vocal communication gua achieved was limited to Oos ahhs and grunts.
This is where Donald exceeded as almost from the start of the experiment he was attempting to vocalise his emotions and needs. This would develop into vocalising actual words, a feat gua failed to reach. But something rather worrying began to become apparent in Donald in that his speech became stunted. This is likely due to his lack of socialising outside of the experiment setting and as such failed to pick up words discovered by interaction of one’s peers.
He was only in possession of around 6 words but he did show signs of vocal imitation, although not from his human careers but of his chimpanzee sister. The Kellogg’s noticed Donald barking like a dog to communicate certain emotions. The child also would screech, scream and even oo oo like an ape. Gua although not learning to speak words herself she did learn words spoken to her, initially she would react just to the tone of the way the word was spoken, but she began to show signs of being able to differentiate between commands.

Initially she would react to no and kiss, but her word reaction vocabulary eventually expanded to around 95 words including the ability to point out parts of her anatomy when asked. Donald from the start of the experiment was slow to learn commands but this is probably attributable to his lower mobility compared to gua, once he was more proficient with climbing and walking he would overtake his sister. Donald’s apparent social and vocal issues caused concern by the 9th month of the experiment in lullealla. And as such The experiment was abruptly brought to an end.
Gua was evicted from her human household and sent back to Robert Yerkeess on the 28th March 1932. From there she would be the subject of a number of other experiments conducted by Robert’s wife Ada. But what if all the data collected from the study and what was the result of the 9 month ape and the baby experiment. Well the Kellogg’s now back to being a conventional family moved back to Indiana and the couple set about writing a book and publicising their study.
Winthrop’s results showed that he was disappointed that gua had hit a wall of development. He had genuinely hoped that immersing the ape into the human household would have created the reverse of a wild raised by wolves child. It’s undeniable that gua did develop many human-like behaviours such as walking more upright, being relatively potty trained, understanding a multitude of commands and even showing off her problem solving skills. Ultimately gua was limited by the fact she was a chimpanzee and that her heredity limited her ultimate ability of language.
Essentially nurture can only take you so far until nature catches up. Initially the experiment went public when an article was published in the American psychological journal. It was written in such a way as to appeal to as many people as possible; this unsurprisingly generated a lot of interest in the press at the time. And by the time a full book was released in 1933 the study and its ease of accessibility resulted in polarising opinions.

Many critics pointed out gua being pulled from her biological mother at such a young age, and the suddenness of the ending of her adoption. This no doubt must have been traumatic for the young chimp to be ripped twice from her perceived home. But the biggest Criticism came from the use of Donald as a test subject. Understandable after all it was on luella’s insistence that the study be terminated.
The extended period of 9 months in which Donald was used in the experiment resulted in his development becoming stunted. Needless to say this brings up questions of the study being ethical. Especially when feasibly a child wasn’t needed for gua to be raised with humans. A number of the tests throughout the study were questionable where the child was frustrated in the broom experiment, hit on the head and startled during the gun test.
But how did the subjects fair later in life?,,, well Both participants’ lives would end in tragedy. Gua would die of pneumonia on December 21, 1933, less than a year after she left the Kellogg’s family and just after turning three years old. Donald would live to the age of 43 until in 1973 he took his own life. In all respects he had grown up healthy, studying medicine and specialising in psychiatry.
Whether his upbringing had contributed to his demise we will never know. Lullea and Winthrop would pass away in 1972. Now where would you rate this experiment on my ethical scale? I’m going to give it a 5 or a 6. The Ape and The Child

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