Did you remember learning in your Psych 101 class about those poor baby monkeys who were separated from their monkey-mothers and given a wire “monkey” to snuggle? Those poor monkeys didn’t turn out so well. What I didn’t know until now was that some of those baby monkeys got an intervention when they were older.
Dr. Harlow, the researcher, had already experimented sending these mother-less monkeys back into the extended monkey family, and their behaviors were heart-wrenching. (I never could have survived as an animal researcher.) They isolated themselves in a corner and rocked, having no idea how to interact with live monkeys. So, the famous researcher staged an intervention: He took these mother-less monkeys, now older, and gave them monkey therapists – Yes, you read that right – Each of those now teenage monkeys was given a child monkey therapist to hang with – And those child monkeys taught those teen monkeys how to be monkeys again.
The happily-bonded child monkeys who’d been fortunate enough to stay with their mothers knew what it was to connect and bond. These kid monkeys were naturally quite curious about this withdrawn sullen angst-ridden teenage monkey, (who had every reason to be sullen, wouldn’t you say, after being raised by wire mesh? This does not explain stereotypical North American middle class teen angst, however. I’m hoping Daniel Siegel’s upcoming book, “Brainstorm” does. Stay tuned) So, these kid monkeys started checking out their new friends. Even if they were met with that familiar teenage primate snub (do teen monkeys roll their eyes, too?), those kid monkeys were persistent – They would climb on their new friends, and chatter with them, and snuggle and hug them. And over time – A lot of time – those teenaged monkeys learned how to be monkeys, again – Part of the monkey family. Those kid monkeys had rewired those teen monkeys’ brains.
If you are at all familiar with your Bible – Even if all you do is go to church on high holy days, surely you know the saying, “…..and a child shall lead them.” (From the prophet Isaiah 11:6) How can you not think about that when you hear of these kid monkeys rescuing their damaged teen monkey friends?
It’s all in the interpersonal neurobiology (how our minds shape and are shaped by others) and the brain’s neuroplasticity. Spend some time with kids – They may just rewire your brain – I mean, in a good way.