Running head: THE IMPORTANCE OF TOUCH AND THE DEVELOPING CHILD 1 TheImportance of Touch and the Developing ChildNameInstitution

Physical affection and touch is a vital element of a healthyattachment. Paramount role played by physical affection during thedevelopmental time of almost all animals is well documented. Ponitzet al., (2008) noted that need for cuddled, touch and caress is asfundamental as the need for feeding. The early postnatal handling inrats has been revealed to lead to a decline in glucocorticoidresponse of the animal to stress (Duhn, 2010). Mothers who groom,lick, and arch-back nurse their pup have been found to have offsprings exhibiting lower corticosterone reaction to stressful stimuli(Blackwell, 2000). On addition to this, there are other studies whichreveal that particular maternal behaviors like stroking and feeding,can lead to a weak heightened adrenocortical reactions (responses),which are brought about by the maternal deprivation (Feldman, 2011).This underscores the importance of love attachments in the earlyyears of a child development.

The first experience that a baby gets with the external environmenttakes place through touch. This is an essential sense in the growthof the cognitive and language skills, physical abilities, andsocial-emotional competency of the child. Physical affection andtouch have both short term effect (during the early childhood andinfancy) and long-term effect, which suggests the great power thatpositive and gentle touch has from the birth of a child (Samuelsson &ampPramling, 2009). Research carried out in the UK reinforces theimportance of the human touch to the development of a healthy brain.The study revealed that showing a loving touch (which ischaracterized by gentle stroke or caress) increases the ability ofthe brain to develop a sense of body ownership and helps to createand maintain a healthy sense of the self (Richter, 2015). This showsthat just like the instinct of showing loving affection to a pet,touching is a reflexive gesture that helps a child to feelcomfortable and safe in the upbringing environment.

Research Topic

That physical touch enhances and supports positive psychological andphysiological developmental of a child, is a documented reality.However, the social structure and children’s growing environmenthas changed, where the time that parents spend with their developingchildren has reduced marginally. Given the link between the healthypsychological development of a child and the physical touch, itfollows that reduction in parental time of showing physical affectionhas a direct effect on the child development. This indirect link hasignited my interest to evaluate the way in which physical touch orlack of it, can affect psychological stability, physical health, andemotional balance of a child. This is achieved by evaluation of the`The nature of love` by Harry Harlow.

Harlow’s Experiments

At the beginning of 20th century, most of the psychologists believedthat physical display of affection towards the children was just asentimental gesture, which was serving nor real purpose. John B.Watson, who was a behaviorist psychologist, once gave a warning tothe parents that when they fall in the temptation to pet theirchildren, they should always remember that showing mother love was adangerous instrument (Samuelsson &amp Pramling, 2009). Most of thepsychologist of the day believed that motherly affection would onlyplay a role of spreading diseases and would have caused psychologicalproblems during the adulthood. In this period, the psychologist had amotivation to prove that their field was a rigorous science.Behaviorist school of thought was dominant in psychology andadvocated for studying measurable and observable behaviors only.However, Harlow, a psychologist from America, was very interested incarrying out a study about love (which was not easy to measure andquantify) (Ponitz et al., 2008).

As documented in `The nature of love` Harlow used a series ofcontroversial experiments in the 1960s, to show the powerful impactsbrought about by love (Harlow, 2013). By demonstrating the upsettingeffects of parental deprivation on the young rhesus monkeys, herevealed that, love of the caregivers is important for the healthydevelopment of the children. Given the timing of his research, Harlowobserved that there was a very little attention that had been givento experiment love research (Samuelsson &amp Pramling, 2009). Hefurther noted that theories trying to explain the basic nature oflove had evolved at discerning, intuition and guesswork levels due toexperimentation dearth. Most of the love theories focused mainly onthe notion that the mother-child attachment was just a mean ofrelieving thirst, getting food and preventing pain. Harlow believedthat this notion, concerning the attachment between mother and child,offered an inadequate explanation.

In one of the experiments, Harlow separated young monkeys(immediately after birth) from their mothers and give them a chanceto be brought up by either a soft terry-cloth model or a wire modelthat had feeding bottle. The terry cloth model of a mother was tenderand soft but did not provide any food to the monkeys while the wiremodel provided food but was not tender. The study revealed that mostof the time, monkeys spent their time with the soft (cloth model)mother than with the feeding wire mother (Harlow, 2013). This meansthat young monkeys only went to the wire mother to get food, and whenthey were not eating, they spent their time with the comforting andsoft mother. This reinforced the idea that contact comfort is animportant variable for the development of affection response, whilelactation is a variable with a negligible significance. Laterexperiments by Harlow showed that young monkeys turned to their softand tender (cloth model) mother for security and comfort (Ponitz etal., 2008).


While many psychologists of the time disparaged the significance oftouch, and physical affection, Harlow’s experiments providedirrefutable evidence that touch and love are paramount for normalchildhood development. Other experiments carried out by Harlowindicated that the longtime devastation that is caused by deprivationled to extreme emotional and psychological distress and in profoundcases, it even led to death. Harlow’s experiments played a key rolein reinforcing the significance of affection, emotional support, andlove during the development of the children. Touch is one of thefirst physical ways of showing affection and love to the childrenduring their developmental age. Previous experiments have found astrong link between this kind of touch and development of a stable,healthy and normal personality. As such, children, just like theyoung ones of other animals, require physical display of love throughstroking and caressing, which goes a long way to ensuring that theydevelop psychological and emotional balance.


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Feldman, R. U. T. H. (2011).Maternal touch and the developing infant. Handbookof touch, 373-407.

Harlow, H. F. (2013). The nature oflove. In&nbspTheMacaque Connection&nbsp(pp.19-31). Springer New York.

Ponitz, C. E. C., McClelland, M.M., Jewkes, A. M., Connor, C. M., Farris, C. L., &amp Morrison, F.J. (2008). Touch your toes! Developing a direct measure of behavioralregulation in early childhood.&nbspEarlyChildhood Research Quarterly,&nbsp23(2),141-158.

Richter, L. (2015). The importanceof caregiver-child interactions for the survival and healthydevelopment of young children: a review.

Samuelsson, I. P., &amp Pramling,N. (2009). Children’s perspectives as ‘touch downs’ in time:assessing and developing children’s understandingsimultaneously.&nbspEarlyChild Development and Care,&nbsp179(2),205-216.