How NOT to raise an ape in your family

Carrie McLaren is a guest blogger at Boing Boing and coauthor of Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. She lives in Brooklyn, the former home of her now defunct Stay Free! magazine.


I collect books by people who have raised apes in their homes. One of the first, The Ape and the Child, was written in by behaviorist W.N. Kellogg, a man with a peculiar brainstorm: that he should raise a chimpanzee as a twin to his own infant son, treating them in exactly the same fashion, and comparing their development. Kellogg was fascinated by case studies of feral children: if kids raised by wolves become wolf-like, he hypothesized, could a human such as he mold an ape to act human?

Kellogg made four films of his studies and 1 of those films is now online.

Results? Mixed. The chimp, Gua, took more quickly to her civilizing education than her brother. She appeared smarter, stronger, and more emotionally developed on a number of counts: she was better at using glasses and silverware, walked earlier (chimps generally don't walk upright), responded to verbal commands sooner, and was more cooperative and obedient.

What we don't learn from Kellogg's study, however, is that chimps' "domestication" peaks around age 2, when humans' surpass them. And the reason we don't learn that is because Kellogg discontinued his study when his charges were around 2. Kellogg explained that he had accomplished his goal: he proved that environment matters. After all, you don't see a lot of chimps eating cereal from a spoon in the wild.

But Kellogg's claim was a bit disingenuous. The fact that environment shapes animal development was already well understood. The real reason he abruptly halted the study, then, was likely because of results that Kellogg never anticipated: his son Donald started imitating the chimp.

For example, though Donald had learned to walk before Gua joined the Kellogg family, he regressed and started crawling more, in tune with Gua. He'd bite people, fetch small objects with his mouth, and chewed up a shoe. More importantly, his language skills were delayed. At 19 months, Donald's vocabulary consisted of three words. Instead of talking he would grunt and make chimp sounds.

Gua got sent back to the Yerkes center in Florida, where she promptly died. And Donald? Not much is known of his life, but, at 43, he committed suicide.

This study got a lot of press when it was published, but Kellogg ended up deeply regreting it -- not because of what it did to his son, but because it prevented him from being taken seriously as a scientist.

Variations on this study were conducted repeatedly through the 20th century. There were a number of cases of people attempting to raise chimps in their homes as humans, and perhaps I'll write more about those later. But, to the best of my knowledge, no one ever used a human infant as a guinea pig again.


The Ape and the Child by W. N. Kellogg and L.A. Kellogg, New York: Whittlesay House, McGraw-Hill, 1933

The Ape and the Child (W.N. Kellogg page at FSU)

Comparative Tests on Human and a Chimpanzee... (1932) (

I previously gave a talk on this as part of my Brooklyn-based lecture series, Adult Ed.