In this study a doctor observed and recorded what happened to 97 children aged between 3 months and 3 years in an orphanage. Because it was a poor place, there were not enough staff to look after these children very well.
Nurses kept the children clean and fed them, but there was little time to hold, cuddle, and talk to them as a mother would. After three months many of them showed signs of having a problem. They didn’t want to eat any more, they were sleeping poorly, many of the children lay with an empty expression in their eyes. After five months, the problem got worse. They would just lie down all day, crying, their faces showing pain and sadness.
Twenty seven, almost one third, of the children died in the first year, but not from lack of food or health care. They died of a lack of touch and a lack of love. Because of this, seven more died the second year. By the end of the study, only 21 of the 97 survived, most suffering serious psychological damage.
The scientist was very unhappy about this, and refused to accept it. He discovered that for each small child there was usually one nurse that the child did seem to like. He asked the managers of the orphanage to allow any such nurse to spend nearly all of her time with that child, and to give it special attention and contact. The scheme worked. Babies on the verge of dying made remarkable recoveries as they discovered the joy of a loving touch, of being wanted and being cared for.
There is something about physical contact that affects us at a deep level. Human beings are made to touch, and to be touched.