A few weeks ago I was sitting in our Science 200 class listening to Andrew’s lecture. During his lecture he mentioned a woman named Lucy Page Gaston. He explained that she was a very influential, intimidating woman who was able to get smoking banned in a few states by saying that it “made boys bad”. Andrew also mentioned as a side remark that it had been rumored that she had never been kissed. Now, as silly as it sounds, that last little remark caught my attention. If that did happen to be true, did that have anything to do with how she turned out? I started to wonder if physical affection had anything to do with our emotional development.
I had heard in a previous psychology class that tests were done by Harry Harlow in the 1950’s with monkeys in which baby monkeys were taken away from their mothers a few hours after birth and put in the care of “surrogate” mothers. These were either a bundle of wire mesh covered in cloth or the equivalent of a giant stuffed animal. The monkeys were separated into two groups. One group was placed in a room with the wire mesh mother, and the other group was put in a room with the stuffed animal. Both “mothers” were warmed and had artificial nipples that provided food for the baby monkeys. Even though both groups of monkeys were provided the same amount of food and water and grew at about the same rate, there was a very distinct difference in the development of the monkeys. The monkeys placed in the care of the wire mesh tended to show signs of emotional distress. They threw themselves on the floors and clutched themselves, some even passed away. The monkeys with the stuffed animals developed normally. This led Harlow to believe that the lack of an object to physically cuddle and touch led to emotional distress of the baby monkey placed with the wire mesh. Therefore that must mean that physical affection and touch plays a big part in the emotional development of monkeys. And since we are so closely related to monkeys it must mean the same for us right? I figured it would be worth looking into more recent studies done on the effects of physical affection on human motional development.
I started my research already believing that a lack of physical affection could potentially have negative effects on a person’s emotional development, but I didn’t know much else about a correlation between the two variables. During my research I came across a study done by Narissra M. Punyanunt-Carter and Jason S. Wrench in which they attempted to measure the effects of touch deprivation on 198 undergraduate students. In their study they asked the students to fill out a questionnaire using a scale from 1 I strongly disagree to 5 I strongly agree. The questionnaire included a three-factor structure used to measure the results. This included the independent variables absence of touch, longing for touch, and sex for touch. The results of the study revealed a direct correlation between touch deprivation and depression and self-esteem. A linear combination of the three independent variables showed a significant relationship to a person’s level of depression and how they saw themselves. The more an individual was deprived of touch, the more likely they were to have depression or low self-esteem.
This supported my original hypothesis, but I had a few concerns about this particular study. First off, the study was conducted with college students. Although they surveyed 198 people, the results still don’t account for the majority of the human population. Just because the correlation might be true for college students doesn’t automatically mean it is true for older or younger age groups. Also, using a survey or questionnaire as part of their method left a lot of room for miscalculation of data. Subjects might not be able to fully understand the questions being presented to them or even provide false information. This means that much of their results could be inaccurate which leaves a lot up to chance. Also multiple factors could influence their depression, not just a lack of touch. All of these elements of this study led me to be suspicious.
Although this study didn’t necessarily prove that physical affection directly effects emotional development, it is still one more study showing a correlation between the two. But I guess the question still remains. Even if there is a correlation, how much does physical affection really affect us? Well I don’t know how you guys feel after reading this blog, but I know that after writing it I really want a hug.