Psychology Today posted an interesting article on human touch (1). The article considers ‘Eight reasons why we need human touch more than ever’ using a 200 year old discovery of a boy who had deprived of human touch and consequently had ‘retarded his social and developmental capacities’. The 8 reasons cover decreased violence, greater trust between individuals, economic gain, decreased disease and stronger immune system, stronger team dynamics, more non-sexual emotional intimacy, greater learning engagement, and overall well-being.
As usual with their articles I start thinking in Transactional Analysis (TA) terms, reinforcing how powerful TA is for explaining human development and human personality. Contact is named as one of the ‘six psychological hungers’ by Eric Berne (2), alongside recognition, structure, incident, stimulus, and sex. Meeting all of our hungers/needs in a healthy and balanced way will ensure healthy development, relationships, career, autonomy, and a sensation of feeling happy and content. When we feel ‘undernourished’ we can often seek to meet our needs in unhealthy ways, or substitute one hunger for another, so in the case of those that do not have a lot of physical contact in their lives may need to increase one or more of the other hungers. An example would be somebody who excessively plans and organises their life, which can often lead to a joyless day to day life.
There are more research examples of what happens to us, both physically and mentally if we do not receive enough contact as an infant, a rather famous example would be the rather cruel experiment by Harlow (3) on Resus Monkeys and the use of two wire mothers, one that is soft to touch but does not feed, and the other plain wire but provides food. Another would be a tragic observational study of human babies in an orphanage, where all needs were provided other than touch, resulting in spinal shrinkage and death in some.
I spent a good part of my working life supporting individuals with a presentation of Autism and Asperger Syndrome, and children with behavioural and emotional problems. During this time I developed a system based on hungers, ensuring that needs were met across the board with touch being top of the list considering most residential care organisations operate a no touch policy other than to restrain. This proved to be highly effective, with the use of massages, hand and foot treatments, and regular trips to the hairdresser impacting on the amount of incidents recorded.
There is no doubt that the lack of touch in our lives impacts our life in many areas, and the article is well worth a read. There are many ways we can increase our physical contact, and for those that are particularly uncomfortable with touch, then psychotherapy might be a good option to help you make changes in this area. I invite you to share your thoughts and stories below about the article itself, the research mentioned, and of course this post.
(1) Eight reasons why we need human touch more than ever
(1) Berne, E. (1961). Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy. New York: Grove Press, Inc.
(2) Harlow, H. F. & Zimmermann, R. R. (1958). The development of affective responsiveness in infant monkeys. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 102,501 -509.
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