Psychology in Action

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What does the skin do? Other than the obvious advantage of “gift-wrapping” the body to make it more presentable, it keeps out germs, bacteria, and other noxious agents, and also gives a waterproof covering. It also signals one’s response to others. For example, humans blanch with fear and turn red with embarrassment. With regard to sensory stimulation, it provides information about the environment. In contrast to the hearing and seeing modalities which are referred to as distance sensors, the skin only picks up stimulation that is “close by.” The infant is ready at birth to explore its nearby world with its tactile sense. One of the more obvious truths about infants of most species is their tendency to huddle Instructor’s Resource Guide                              Chapter 4                                            Page   119                                                                            
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against the mother or with their siblings. This craving for touch coincides with a body’s need for touch. Much of family time togetherness is spent with the mother licking the infant. This phenomenon is true for dogs, cats, baboons, langurs, and many other species. In the case of dogs and cats, much of the time is spent in licking the perineal area. Without this stimulation, the genitourinary area would not function appropriately, and the offspring would die. Harlow’s classic studies of surrogate mothers indicate that touch is more important than nourishment in providing the basis for an attachment in monkeys. Studies with rats that have varied types of sensory deprivation have shown that touch deprivation leads to an impaired immune system. An impaired immune system may also be the explanation for infant marasmus, or infantile atrophy. This disorder is characterized by a failure to gain weight or thrive and the infant “wastes away”. Observation in the 19 th century of infants who had been placed in fondling homes indicated that close to 100% died before the age of two. Overworked staff seldom found the time to caress or touch the babies. After a systematic introduction of touch in which the babies were held several times each day, the mortality rate dropped to 10%. It wasn’t until after World War II, however, that the medical profession noted that marasmus could also occur in middle-class homes if there was an absence of touching. More recent studies have concentrated on the premature infant who is often deprived of touch. Several excellent studies, using both control and experimental groups, have found that a premature baby who is touched has a higher IQ, better weight gain, less irritability, and more advanced central nervous system functioning. In one study, premature infants who were held went home six days earlier than those who were not. The difference in cost of hospital care per infant was $3,000. Current
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