October 30, 2013 | 11:39 AM "Bonding," a common term in our day for relationship-building between two people, got jump-started in the 1950s.
American psychologist Harry Harlow removed newborn rhesus monkeys from their natural mothers. The babies had to choose between getting their milk from a bottle held by a substitute mother made of wire or from a substitute mother made of wire covered with soft terry cloth.
Most of the newborn monkeys chose the terry cloth surrogates when they drank their milk, spent significantly more time with them when they were not getting milk and scampered to them and clung to them when afraid. Even when there was milk in the wire mother's bottle and none in the terry cloth mother's bottle, they chose the latter for clinging.
The few monkeys that chose the wire mothers developed serious behavioral problems, some closely resembling human autistic behaviors.
Harlow concluded that in humans, as in monkeys, there is more to the mother/infant relationship than milk. He concluded that tactile stimulation — "contact-comfort" — was essential to healthy psychological development.
Today, it is common for the father not only to be present in the delivery room but to bond skin-to-skin with his newborn. Mothers are encouraged, even incentivized, to breastfeed. We assume anymore that the first few hours and days of life provide a unique opportunity for significant bonding between parents and child.
Neonatal intensive care nurseries have volunteers whose job is to cuddle and rock and talk to the babies. Orphanage and day care workers are taught the value of warm and caring touch.
If you visit with nursing home residents, assume that holding their hand, a touch on the arm or a kiss on the hand or forehead may be the best medicine they'll get that day.
Cradle to grave, a loving touch works magic. Dr. Wayne Willis