Harlow- Importance of Contact

In the 1950’s, it was common belief that the root of a child’s attachment to his or her mother was primarily attributed to the child’s desire for nourishment. Out of all the things that a mother or care-giver provides for the survival of a child, food is the first obvious example. Naturally, researchers explained the profound attachment between the mother and child as a survival trait. The suggestion is that the brain wires itself to hold an extreme desire to stay close to the one who provides the ingredients for survival.

In the later part of this decade, psychologist Harry Harlow performed a few studies that contradicted this long held belief. Harlow proved that nourishment was not the primary motivation in growing an attachment to a parent figure. Harlow removed infant monkeys from their mothers at a very young age. He placed them in a space with two potential parents. One was made of cloth and had a familiar appearance and the other was made of wire, a block of wood and held a bottle of food. Even though the monkeys would climb the uncomfortable parent figure for food, they would always end up attached to the soft familiar parent for any other reason. When placed in an unfamiliar environment the young monkeys would take comfort with the soft parent and become distressed when the soft parent was not available.

Today, we understand the importance of contact for all human beings and the impact it has throughout the developmental stages of a child’s life should not be ignored. Before effective verbal communication exists between adults and young children, physical communication is everything. Whether it is feeding, hugging, snuggling, or tickling, this contact is crucial in a child’s development. As human beings, we want to know that we are not alone. We want to know that we matter to one another. This desire to connect through contact is important to a child before they can even comprehend why. It is our responsibility to provide them with that contact because we know just how important it truly is.

Myers, D. G. (2013). Psychology. (10th ed.). New York City: Worth Publishing Company.


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