A Mother's Love

Observations in macaques provide new insights into how mothers form attachments to their newborns

Photo of toy monkey holding a baby toy monkey
Image: 3283197d_273/ iStock/Getty Images Plus

Neurobiologist Margaret Livingstone never expected to publish a study on maternal attachment and bonding in monkeys. However, in the course of her research on how visual object recognition develops in infant macaques, she made a series of surprising observations about their mothers, and she knew she had to share it.

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In a new paper, Livingstone describes eight observations of five macaque mothers over 10 years. The study, published Sep. 19 in PNAS, reveals that mothers who had recently given birth could bond with a stuffed toy in a manner similar to how macaque mothers typically bond with their actual infants. The observations suggest that monkey mothers form attachments to infants based on the tactile sensation of soft texture rather than on other cues, including sight and sound.