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The Human Significance of Skin

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Skin is often over looked and under appreciated by all of us. We live our lives habitually without realizing what an amazing and important role skin plays in our every day routine. Our skin protects us from many things, keeps us informed of our surroundings and makes us aware of many dangers present. The sense of touch is our most developed feeling and the predecessor of all of our other senses. The author gives several examples on how we have incorporated our sense of touch to our colloquial language as an expression of just how much we use our skin. But our skin may serve more purposes than those of protection and information. Through several experiments it has been demonstrated that the sense of touch is highly associated with the immune system, the development of social skills, and even the survival of the species.

Montagu uses a number of case studies in which he relates skin to death rates and success in healing wounds. On one particular study done on laboratory rats where humans had handled the first group and had not handled the second group, the conclusions were surprising. After a surgery were the thyroid and parathyroid glands had been removed on both groups, the survival rate of the group handled by humans was 87% compared to 12% for the group that had not been handled by humans. This study seemed to shed light on the need since birth for skin-to-skin contact from the parents towards their newborn and vice versa. The bond created during those firsts instants that mother and newborn spend together will not only help the mother but will also teach the newborn skills that it will need for survival.

* Stimulus: An action or event that elicits a behavioral response.

* Response: A behavior, either instinctual or learned, that is elicited by a certain stimulus.

* Conditioning: Any learning process that occurs within the laws of behavioral theory.

Montagu talks about a study done by professor Harry Harlow on monkeys. Harlow discovered that infant monkeys raised in a wire mesh cage survived with difficulty if at all during the first five days of their life. But when terry cloth was introduced in the cage, healthy babies developed. Harlow set up an experiment where two ?mothers? were introduced in the cage. The first one was made out of terry cloth and was warm and soft. The second one was made out of wire and carried the milk that would feed the monkeys. Monkeys responded to the stimuli of the terry cloth mother in such a way that it overshadowed the purpose of mother?s milk and put close contact as the main principle of nursing. The infant monkeys were expected to be conditioned to the wire monkey and respond to their instinct of survival first. But the study showed that the monkeys valued tactile stimulation more than they did nourishment, preferring to cling to the mothers that provided them with warmth and physical contact.

* Social Learning: A theory that learning occurs through observation and imitation of others.

* Parent-newborn bond: The strong feelings of attachment that arise between parents and their newborn infants.

When a baby is born, a mother is born as well. Harlow observed in the monkeys that the need from the mother to have intimate contact with the newborn was greater than the newborn?s need for contact with the mother. In the human mother, the parent-newborn bond is much stronger than in the other mammals serving the purpose of arresting post-partum depression, contraction of the uterus, and better circulation. Harlow uncovered that monkey mothers that were failures, had had early experiences where their contact with a real mother was limited and normal parent-newborn relationships were never formed.



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