TOUCHING: The Human Significance of the Skin by Ashley Montagu

TOUCHING: The Human Significance of the Skin

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Montagu's treatise on the skin senses -- touching, being sensitive to temperature, pain, pressure, body position -- amounts to a panegyric aimed at establishing the supreme value/virtue of the human integument. Not only is the skin the primary avenue through which man first learns about the world, from the initial stimulus of labor and birth through sucking, mouthing, grasping, and feeling, but it has primacy also in interpersonal relations: the way human beings are handled at the outset of life plays a very large role in subsequent behavior and personality development. It is not surprising, then, that the major emphasis is on the early years and the varied ways individuals, classes and cultures handle their offspring. Montagu faults the American and Anglo-Saxon tradition for its ""no-touch' attitude, one which Watsonian behaviorism and pediatricians of the '20's did much to encourage. In contrast Montagu describes Eskimo, Balinese and other cultures where babies are almost an attachment to their mothers' bodies, and through such constant skin contact make their needs and wants instantaneously known; at the same time they are being treated to a rich store of sensory stimulation in the course of the day. For the most part the experimental evidence, cross-cultural studies and animal behavior observations are fascinating and do much to establish Montagu's point. There is a tendency toward excessive documentation, however, and one could wish for a little fuller treatment of some studies and less passing mention of work which raises more questions than it answers. Adding to this is Montagu's enthusiasm which gets wearisome after a while, especially when he seems to indicate that almost all aberrant behavior or social phenomena can be related to some skin contact deprivation in infancy (rock music, hairy adolescents, childhood schizophrenia, etc.). In this sweep one misses factors of genetic influence, individual differences, and perhaps most important of all, the fact that there is great plasticity in human beings and some of us have been known to change our ways of touching even above the age of thirty.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1971
ISBN: 0060960280
Publisher: Columbia Univ. Press