Why Physical Contact Is So Important and How Massage Therapy Can Fill That Void

If you think that massages are guilty pleasures that you want but do not need, think again. Massage gives you the opportunity to fulfill one of the most basic human needs: the need to be touched.

Research shows that physical touch is just as important as other physical needs, like nourishment and sleep. Here is a look into that research, and why you should quit hesitating and book that massage as soon as possible.

Who Was Harry Harlow?

In the 1950s, American psychologist Harry Harlow conducted a revolutionary set of psychological experiments known today as the Monkey Love Experiments. When rhesus monkeys in his laboratory gave birth, he immediately removed the infants and placed them in a special nursery. The infants were segregated from each other, but each was given two surrogate "mothers." One surrogate type consisted of wire, and the other of cloth. Harlow fitted the wire surrogate with a nourishing bottle, but did not supply the cloth surrogate with food.

Harlow's Monkey Love Experiments had surprising results. The infant rhesus monkeys bonded with the cloth monkeys instead of the wire ones, even though it was the wire surrogates that provided the much-needed physical sustenance.

Harlow performed another experiment that resulted in even more revealing results. He isolated some infants with just the wire surrogate, and the others with just the cloth surrogate. Both were given food. The infants "cared for" by the cloth surrogate grew into much more developmentally mature beings than the ones isolated with the wire surrogate.

From these Monkey Love Experiments, Harlow concluded that the infant rhesus monkeys' need for physical touch was at least as powerful, if not more so, than their need for nourishment. He also concluded that touch deprivation can lead to long-term, devastating psychological consequences.

What About People?

Harlow's experiments opened the door to further research on the important role that touch plays in development and emotional health. Yet, his critics argued that the results of the Monkey Love Experiments are not necessarily relevant to a different species--our own.

For ethical reasons, scientific experimentation on humans is highly regulated, and the extent to which a psychologist can use human subjects in studies is limited. Yet, two more researchers, John Bowlby and Rene Spitz, studied children who were orphaned and institutionalized, and came to similar conclusions. These children, who grew up in clinical cubicles with very little human interaction, developed into emotionally unstable young adults who had a difficult time interacting and forming relationships. Compared to orphans raised in caring foster homes, these institutionalized children also had lower intellectual functions and more behavioral problems.

What Does This Research Mean for Massage Therapy?

The results of research conducted by Harlow, Bowlby, and Spitz prove that physical contact and touch significantly impact a person's emotional and mental health. If you are booking a massage, however, you are probably well beyond the point of childhood development. Yet, this does not mean that you have outgrown the need for physical touch.

In this day and age, Americans communicate and form friendships online, hide behind Internet profiles, and replace face-to-face interactions with technologically-enhanced ones. This is quite possibly an inevitable societal direction, but it also has very negative effects on our relationships, ability to be intimate, and our very happiness. America has become a touch-deprived society. You cannot change the status quo, but you can address how it relates to your own health.

By booking a massage, at a place like Euro Spa Of Naples, you are doing more than just indulging in a relaxing experience. You just might be improving your emotional well-being and increasing the length and quality of your life. Regardless of the technique that you request, like Swedish, deep tissue, or Shiatsu, you are, more importantly, tapping in to one of the most significant human needs: the need for physical contact.