The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > General Questions

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 08-02-2011, 09:52 PM
Nzinga, Seated Nzinga, Seated is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2007
Can a baby die because of lack of human touch?

Ok. I just finished watching the last installment of The Zeitgeist. I know, I know; conspiracy theory nuttery.

But, I heard something on there that made me blink.

They said that a baby who is denied human touch will die. That sounded a bit more crazy than everything else they were saying, so I decided to google that one.

It was kind of hard for me to google, but I did find this bit of questionable info repeated here on the Livestrong website. The claim seems to be that even if a child gets shelter and nutrition, the baby will die if it isn't touched by a human.

What's the real science on this?
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 08-02-2011, 09:55 PM
Diogenes the Cynic Diogenes the Cynic is offline
BANNED
 
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: St. Paul, MN
Posts: 58,797
I don't see how it could be ethically testable.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 08-02-2011, 10:15 PM
Apollyon Apollyon is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2000
Well, not human babies, but you might like to read about "maternal-separation and social isolation experiments on rhesus monkeys".

Wiki article on Harry Harlow.

Interesting to note that one of his doctoral students claimed that he believes "the animal liberation movement in the U.S. was born as a result of Harlow's experiments".
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 08-02-2011, 10:20 PM
WhyNot WhyNot is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Sweet Home Chicago
Posts: 30,757
Sadly, yes. We think it can lead to a condition called Failure To Thrive (which can also be caused by other factors - basically it means that the infant/child isn't gaining weight and height like it should, and the problem gets worse, not better, over time.)

In the early 1900's, a popular doctor suggested that people shouldn't touch their babies, and doctors noticed a sharp increase in infant death attributed to Failure To Thrive.

It's known that skin to skin contact and eye contact release hormones and enzymes during breastfeeding, and bottle feeding when it's done right (meaning: don't prop the bottle and walk away). It makes sense to me that a lack of the appropriate enzymes will make digestion less effective, and if digestion is less effective, so will nutrient absorption be less effective, and in turn, growth. I don't know if that's the actual proposed mechanism of action, but it must at least contribute.

Here's one study
which demonstrates that lack of particular kinds of touch is seen from mothers with children with Failure To Thrive. Correlation does not equal causation, of course, but it's an avenue worth exploring.

Now, most Failure To Thrive cases in the US are not fatal, because it's something pediatricians look for very carefully and the babies get treated. There are some mortalities from it every year, although numbers are hard to find because such deaths are generally categorized as "malnutrition" in actuarial tables and epidemiology charts.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 08-02-2011, 10:25 PM
Thudlow Boink Thudlow Boink is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Springfield, IL
Posts: 18,309
I know I've heard/read of babies in orphanages many years ago who died, or at least failed to thrive, due to touch deprivation. Here's one site I managed to dig up; I don't know how reputable or definitive it is.

I was also reminded of the experiments of Harry Harlow that Apollyon brought up.

And here's a Scientific American article on How Important Is Physical Contact with Your Infant?
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 08-02-2011, 10:48 PM
Nzinga, Seated Nzinga, Seated is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2007
Thanks for the feedback, guys. I don't find the links all that convincing, though. None of the links seem to state that removing the human touch alone will cause death. Failure to Thrive seems dependent on a lot of other factors, outside of not touching the infant.

And Failure to Thrive seems to be more of a...well, of a failure to thrive, as opposed to death.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 08-02-2011, 10:59 PM
drachillix drachillix is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nzinga, Seated View Post
Failure to Thrive seems dependent on a lot of other factors, outside of not touching the infant.
Alot of those studies focus on situations where neglect in general is rampant, physical contact is probably near the bottom of the list of direct causes if it has any real effect at all.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 08-02-2011, 11:05 PM
Whack-a-Mole Whack-a-Mole is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by Apollyon View Post
Wiki article on Harry Harlow.

Interesting to note that one of his doctoral students claimed that he believes "the animal liberation movement in the U.S. was born as a result of Harlow's experiments".
Among the more evil experiments ever conducted. That guy had no soul to be able to do these experiments.

I know Cracked is hardly a scientific journal but they have cites and a bit on this guy: http://www.cracked.com/article_17039...cientists.html

From the above:

Quote:
His most controversial experiment, however, involved a device affectionately dubbed the pit of despair, where a baby monkey would be placed in a small isolated chamber for periods of up to a year, without any contact with any living creature. As a result, the baby monkeys became psychotic and never recovered.

Last edited by Whack-a-Mole; 08-02-2011 at 11:07 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 08-03-2011, 12:18 AM
Rachellelogram Rachellelogram is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
The cases of feral children who've survived until their mid teens before discovery seems to thwart the idea that a baby MUST die if it hasn't been touched. But it seems very likely that some COULD. But even if a child subjected to lack of human contact doesn't die, it certainly becomes severely fucked-up as a result. Not recommended.

There's no definitive study possible because of ethical concerns, as above. We're relying on people to self-report, and what mother is going to admit that she never touches her child?

Last edited by Rachellelogram; 08-03-2011 at 12:19 AM..
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 08-03-2011, 04:20 AM
constanze constanze is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2006
Besides the already mentioned Rhesus-monkey experiment, there's also the "evidence" of the children found in Russian and Romanian orphanages after the fall of the Iron Curtain, who received feeding but no stimulation and had severe lack of human contact, due to the shortages of personnel.

Anecdotally, there's also the famous experiment of Kaiser Friedrich II where, trying to find the original language of mankind, separated several children from their mothers; the nursing mothers were not allowed to speak with them or touch them, but instead of talking, the babies died soon.

With regards to feral children, who are almost always (known cases, separate from legends) emotionally and developmentally retarded, scholars are still unclear whether the children are retarded because they were abandoned, or if they were abandoned because they showed signs of retardation; obviously this is impossible to find out later, but it is clear that abandoning children is not good for them.
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 08-03-2011, 07:18 AM
Ferret Herder Ferret Herder is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Quote:
Originally Posted by Whack-a-Mole View Post
Among the more evil experiments ever conducted. That guy had no soul to be able to do these experiments.
And yet paradoxically, he did that research partially because of the beliefs that you should minimize touching/holding your baby, and wanted to try to confirm some investigations at the time that showed the failure to thrive data. His research led to improvements in understanding abused children, in treating institutionalized children. He promoted nursing as a way to strengthen maternal bonding, and helped put to rest the "evidence" against touching and holding your children.

I'm not exactly a "fan" of his methods, but even doing real research on the topic at the time was nearly unheard of. Using brutal methods, he showed how inhumane we could be to humans.

Last edited by Ferret Herder; 08-03-2011 at 07:18 AM..
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 08-03-2011, 07:56 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: May 2001
Location: England
Posts: 51,984
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nzinga, Seated View Post
Thanks for the feedback, guys. I don't find the links all that convincing, though. None of the links seem to state that removing the human touch alone will cause death. Failure to Thrive seems dependent on a lot of other factors, outside of not touching the infant.
Or possibly caused by being out of touch with the infant. If you're not touching it, you'll be less aware of its needs. Perhaps if it's not being touched, it will also not be stimulated to demand feeding and other attention so much.
Reply With Quote
Reply



Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 07:33 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.