Gua, The Chimpanzee Who Grew Up As a Human Baby

Have you heard about gua the chimpanzee? She was raised as if she was a human baby. Let's learn about the case of Gua and its moral implications.
Gua, The Chimpanzee Who Grew Up As a Human Baby
Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 29 September, 2022

A preoccupation with the similarities and differences between humans and animals has been present in a large number of scientific disciplines. Psychology is one of them. The case of Gua, the chimpanzee who grew up as a human baby, is very significant in this field.

Numerous experiments have been conducted on animals and humans i n the name of knowledge and the advancement of science. This includes Pavlov’s famous conditioning of dogs, Skinner’s pigeons, and the case of Gua.

Gua: The chimpanzee raised as a human baby

Gua. That was the name of the chimpanzee who was raised together with her human brother Donald. This is not an tall tale, but an experiment conducted by psychologist W. Kellogg, who was interested in deepening research on learning and behavior.

Gua was 7 months old, and Donald was 10 months old when the chimp was made part of the family. According to Kellogg and his partner Luella’s experiment, both would receive the same attention, affection, and love.

Among the objectives, they wanted to know how the chimpanzee learned and the influence the environment had on her. Thus, by providing similar nurturing, Kellogg sought to establish the relative weight of a classic dichotomy: nature versus nurture.

Every day, the couple measured and tested both Donald and Gua. There was great detail and scientific rigor in the assessments to measure visual and motor perception, displacement, memory, and task solving, among other aspects.

Gua, the chimpanzee was raised like a human
The role of nature versus nurture is a common subject of debate in science. How does the environment influence what humans learn? 

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Some questionable points about the experiment with Gua

The experiment did not bear the fruits expected by its designers. In fact, Donald’s behavior demonstrated significant learning delays compared to his age peers. For example, the child had a very limited repertoire of words. He was able to pronounce only three words, while other peers could already recognize around 50 words.

He had also acquired behaviors and habits expected of Gua, such as grunting when communicating or moving on all fours. On the other hand, Gua had developed more complex behaviors, such as greeting, kissing, and bathing herself. In other words, while Donald became more like a primate, Gua became more like a human. This is quite the opposite of what Kellogg had expected!

The psychologist realized how the experiment was affecting his son, so he decided to discontinue the experiment. After nine months, Gua was returned to the zoo. There, she was unable to adapt to the change, and she became ill and died within a year.

Donald was then able to acquire language skills and learn new things. However, he took his own life at the age of 43, after his parents had died, although the causes are unknown. Both the lives of Gua and Donald faced very tragic outcomes.

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What experience teaches us

So, what lessons can we learn from this experiment? Well, first of all, it’s crucial to bear in mind that the bonds and attachments created in this family group were not taken into account.

That is, Gua did receive attention and care, but it was instrumentalized. When the experiment should have come to an end because of the child’s condition, her care was interrupted in favor of Donald’s well-being. However, both participants had already been raised as siblings and formed an attachment. Therefore, it was to be expected that the separation and the attachment they had developed by sharing so much time and activities together would affect them both.

On the other hand, parts of the experiment also included tests that involved pain or discomfort for both Gua and Donald. This should not be justified from any point of view, even if the objective is the advancement of knowledge.

This is all the more disconcerting because none of the parties involved gave their consent, nor were they aware of what was being done to them or the possible consequences. Today, both informed consent and awareness are necessary and required conditions for any treatment or experiment.

isolation
It’s believed that Donald’s suicide after the age of 40 could be linked to the experiences he had in his childhood.

Boundaries and rights should be respected for living beings

No one doubts how important the evolution of knowledge and science is and the progress it means at all levels: this includes improved health, a better quality of life, and better use of resources, among many other things. Of course, psychology as we know it today has also evolved thanks to many experiments that have been carried out throughout history.

However, when we go into detail and realize what the conditions that facilitated certain discoveries really were, they raise a lot of red flags. Negligence in experiments, unintended consequences, and lack of empathy were often present, to mention a few.

Experiments must be performed under controlled and careful conditions while placing people and living beings at the center of attention. Ethics is the first and last horizon of all research; something that, with Gua, the chimpanzee, was not fulfilled.

Today, the complexity of human beings and the reality of the world invites us to transcend dichotomous and simplistic approaches in which only one of the two factors is given importance: nature or nurture. Instead, we might recognize that both have an important influence on our development since we’re not born blank stales, nor do we grow up in a void.

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