Lasting effects of deprivation of physical contact on infant development (that continue on throughout life)
…the lasting effects of early infancy environments and the changes that the brain undergoes during that period. Below the surface, some children from deprived surroundings such as orphanages, have vastly different hormone levels than their parent-raised peers even beyond the baby years. For instance, in Romania in the 1980s, by ages six to 12, levels of the stress hormone cortisol were still much higher in children who had lived in orphanages for more than eight months than in those who were adopted at or before the age of four months, according to a study from Development and Psychopathology. Other work has shown that children who experienced early deprivation also had different levels of oxytocin and vasopressin (hormones that have been linked to emotion and social bonding), despite having had an average of three years in a family home. “This environmental change [into a home] does not seem to have completely overridden all of the effects of early neglect,” the researchers, led by Alison Wismer Fries of the Department of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison noted in their study, published in 2005 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/infant-touch/
…Moreover, not only animals, but even humans raised in conditions where there is inadequate social stimulation develop bizarre self-stimulatory and even self-abusive activities, such as head banging, biting on their skin, pinching themselves until they bleed, or rocking repetitively. That is, being in need of physical contact with others, when this contact is insufficient, children and young animals will engage in repetitive and sometimes abusive self-stimulatory activities. So great is the need for stimulation that when it is lacking they supply it to themselves in an inappropriate manner. Generally this self-stimulation is abusive as if the infant were punishing itself for being unloved.
Contact Comfort, be it negative or positive, so long as it is in the form of physical and emotional contact is in fact a necessity for the continuation of life. For human beings, so pervasive is this need for physical interaction and stimulation that when grossly reduced or denied, the result is often death.
If an infant is only infreuqnetly handled or cuddled a condition refereed to as marasmus results: that is, the infant does not merely develop bizarre behavior, it will die — a condition frequently noted in foundling homes and orphanages early in this and throughout the last century.
For example, in several well known studies of children raised in foundling homes during the early 1900’s when the need for contact was not well recognized and children were left to lie alone in thier cribs (except during feeding or when being changed), the majority died. Morbidity rates for children less than 1 year of age was over 70%. Of 10,272 children admitted to the Dublin Foundling home during a single 25 year period, only 45 survived.
Of those who survived an infancy spent in institutions where mothering and contact comfort were minimized, signs of low intelligence, depression, extreme passivity, apathy, as well as severe attentional deficits were often characteristic . Such individuals had difficulty forming attachment or maintaining social interactions later in life and were forever abnormal and dysfunctional.
This is because the limbic cells that mediate emotion, attachment and the need to survive failing to be utilized die and drop out. “If you don’t use it you lose it” is an important moto for the brain and nervous system. Thus the ability to associate in an emotionally meaningful manner with others is compromised.
Psychological association is also the means of self-discovery and when deprived of association during infancy the development of the Self also suffers. Children are not only unable to relate appropriately to others they do not know who they are.
Moreover, the actual growth and development of the brain is effected. Infants, be they human or animal, when reared in conditions where there is little physical or social interaction and minimal sensory input and a paucity of variety of novelty, have brains which are grossly abnormal. The neocortex is thinner, neurons and cells in the brain are smaller, and there are in fact fewer nerve cells and fewer interconnections between cells as compared to those reared in normal or enriched environment. http://brainmind.com/AttachmentMaternalLoveInfancyChildhood.html