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Touch Deprivation and Violence

While doing research on the healing power of touch, I found a fascinating 2002 research study led by Dr. Tiffany Field that showed the link between lack of positive touch early in life and aggression and violence in adolescence and adulthood.

Dr. Field cited a 1990 study by J. W. Prescott that looked at 49 cultures.  Prescott’s research found that that those “cultures that exhibited minimal physical affection toward their young children had significantly higher rates of adult violence, and, vice versa, those cultures that showed significant amounts of physical affection toward their young children had virtually no adult violence.” *

Dr. Field then compared behavior of parents of preschool children in France, which has low adult violence and the United States which has high adult violence, and found that French preschoolers were touched more and were less aggressive than their US peers.  The trend continued into adolescence.

Could the answer to decreasing violence among adolescents and adults be as simple as increasing affectionate touch?  We know that infants who are neglected and given little physical affection do not physically develop and are at risk of death.  We call the condition “failure to thrive.” Now, the research suggests that those same children will be at risk of becoming violent adults.

Parents and caregivers, shower your children with affection. Hug them often. Affirm them with high-fives. Bless them with a hand on their head. Reassure them with a hand on their shoulder. Hold hands.  Cuddle.  It will do wonders for your children’s development AND our society just may be healthier down the road.

* Prescott, J. W. (1990). Affectional bonding for the prevention of violent behaviors: Neurobiological, psychological and religious/spiritual determinants. In L. J. Herzberg, G. F. Ostrum, & J. Roberts Field (Eds.), Violent behavior–Assessment and intervention (Vol. 1). Great Neck, NY: PMA Publishing Co.

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