Deprived of Touch

(With fibro, for those of you who don't know, the brain registers normal pressure as discomfort at the best and pain at the worst. Often people are reluctant to give a hug and we avoid unexpected or pressure since certain kinds of touch can be painful.)

In view of National Fibromyalgia Day today I was reviewing some of my therapeutic visual journals. When I came across these pages I did some time ago I recalled the studies done on baby Chimps.

In the 1960’s, Harry Harlow did research on baby monkeys and touch deprivation. The baby monkeys  were well cared for except they were touch deprived. They had no contact from other monkeys and little contact with their human researchers. They were put into a cage with  fake mother monkeys made of wire mesh with bottle of formula attached for the baby monkeys to drink. A second fake mother Monkey was made of soft and furry material with no bottle.

The baby monkeys clung to the soft mother monkey for hours. They would not go to the wire mother for food. Older monkeys would cling to the cloth monkey and when hungry would go to the wire monkey for brief periods of time to eat. When frightened all infant monkeys went to the cloth mother.

When the monkeys grew up, they showed anti-social behavior and could not get along with other monkeys or nurture their young because of the touch deprivation they received as infants..

Before  this discovery children in orphanages often grew sick and died from failure to thrive or when adopted had “attachment disorders”.  Based on Harlow’s discovery no one knew that these symptoms were a result of touch deprivation.

Some other findings:

  • In the 1970’s, James W. Prescott researched 400 cultures around the world. He found that societies that lavished more affection on infants and young children and were tolerant of teenagers expressing sexual affection towards one another were less violent than other societies.
  •  Seniors who are touched on a regular basis are healthier and less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
  • Pre-mature babies who are touched on a regular basis gain weight more quickly than babies who are not touched.
  • Healthy touch from another person slows the heart rate, decreases the levels of cortisol in the system, and eases anxiety.

Reach out and touch Someone!

10 comments on “Deprived of Touch

  1. You’ve started me thinking…I’ve 3 middle aged children.
    The first and third were “Surprize!” babies; while the second was planned; the Monkey program explains a great deal about their behaviors during the circumstances of these three growing up. Interesting. Thanks for the insight…
    P.S. Have the cereal boxes but haven’t gotten around yet to making my “sketch books”…:)

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  2. Omigosh! I remember that study. I felt so bad for those poor baby monkeys. It’s nice to know that so much good came out of the study.

    When I pay attention, I am amazed at how much well-being can come from a simple touch. That’s one great thing about motherhood – at least when they’re small – you always have this little creature pawing at you, making you happy.

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    • Jane,
      Yes, some really important information came out of the study. I say blessings to the researchers for having curiosity and blessings to the animals who have contributed to the betterment of the human race. Tens of thousands of premies and children have been “touched” by those baby chimps.
      J.

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  3. Touch is amazing. It creates a bond that is beyond belief. It’s interesting because I was in an incubator for 3 months. I was very premature and only weighed 2 lbs. I’ve heard a premies skin is so thin that touch feels like you’re on fire. I wonder if that’s why I don’t like to be held for very long……interesting………

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    • Rose,
      That is a very interesting question. Some Autistic children don’t like touch while others are comforted when they are swaddled tightly. All of these are central nervous system connections. Fibro and CFS are also central nervous system. And our skin is our largest body organ.
      I bet you are onto something.
      J.

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