A passionate and committed plea for good touch using evidence based results
Ashley Montagu was an anthropologist, who amongst other writing wrote this deeply compassionate, humanitarian, and at the time (1971) rather revolutionary book on the importance of proper nurturing touch in order to help babies thrive, both physiologically, and emotionally.
This wonderful book, which appears to go in and out of print – so get it if you can! – is a densely written and fascinating account of that most ignored of senses, touch. The skin is of course our largest sense organ, and the one which develops first, in embryonic terms.
Montagu’s book, containing often horrific accounts of experiments carried out on baby animals – and human babies – shows the deep importance of good touch in our lives.
For a bodyworker, a book like this is an absolute treasure. It provides the evidence which we know, that the effects of massage are incredibly profound, on soma and on psyche, and that massage is much much more than just ‘fluffy feelgood’ – in fact, this book, along with, for example, The Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel really demonstrates the scientific basis for good touch.
He cites a wealth of evidence on studies (often heart-breaking to read) carried out on baby animals of many species – including humans – to show that deprived of early touch, not only does the baby human or other animal have a more suspicious, less confident, more fearful/aggressive nature, but that, in the life of a young mammal, early touch stimulates the respiratory and excretory functions into proper functioning.
One particularly heartbreaking study involved a prem baby unit. With understandable anxieties around infection, babies were sealed in their incubators and touch was minimal. The group of babies were divided into two, with half, receiving gentle stroking through the incubator, whilst the control group only had the minimum touch for feeding/cleaning etc as the main worry was infection.
The study had to be abandoned once the nurses realised that the touched babies were gaining weight more quickly, thriving, and making up in development, whilst the babies with the absolute minimal touch were more fragile, and taking much longer to reach the desired weight and development
Montagu was clearly a deeply compassionate individual, and the fine combination of heart and head in his writing is refreshingly balanced.
In the preface to the third edition he writes:
‘Where touching begins, there love and humanity also begin – within the first minutes following birth. It is to make these facts known, and their consequences for each of us and for humanity as a whole, that this book has been written’
This is a scientific tome which is also humanitarian, and potentially of interest to psychologists, psychotherapists, bodyworkers, sociologists, educators, paediatricians and other clinicians as well as those with an interest in mysticism given form.