{February 10, 2008}   Haptics

Haptics refers to touch. Touch is an important aspect in life. Touching and being touched is a basic need which many of us do not realise. Deprivation of touch may lead to mental, physical, social disorders and even death. Never though it was that important right? Read the following example:

Withholding touch from infants generally tends to maintain results of the largest consequences. History has proven that deprivation of touch to infants is quite detrimental, even fatal. Hygienic institutes in 1920 experienced a near 100% infant death rate. Medical scientists were confused. The children were well-fed and well taken care of but left virtually untouched. By the late 1920’s, various changes were made to infant care facilities, including the provision of “mothering.” Infants were held, rocked and stroked by nurses at feeding time and other particular periods. Death rates immediately dropped to 40%.

Infants also learn the exsistence of their body parts via touch. Without sufficient touch, a child may not develop mentally and therefore suffer from retardation. Hugging, cradling and even inflicting pain, are some form of touch that a child needs to be exposed to in order to learn about love, affection, self identity and danger.

Different cultures view haptics in a different manner. For example, Americans are most comfortable with a handshake. Personal space is important to them. However, although they may refrain from touching one another, they do need to fulfil their basic needs. Thus they turn to touching their pets, touching themselves, hugging pillows and even getting ‘liscensed touchers”  to make up for the absence. Americans depend on masseurs, hospital attendants, chiropractors, and pastors to supply them with the necessary care, affection, and support.

Habitants of Europe are generally more touch-inclined than Americans, with the exception of the English; haptics behaviors actually are more scarce in England. French greetings are filled with touch–it is a custom to kiss both cheeks upon greeting someone in France. Frequent pats and nudges exemplify the interpersonal norm in Germany.

Greeting and haptic habits vary quite drastically geographically. In the middle east, heterosexual male friends may hold hands when in each other’s presence–a behavior that may be judged as odd in other parts of the world. In Japan it is not uncommon for an entire family to bathe together, until the children reach age 10. Whereas Japanese children receive more physical attention, much more than American or English children, at this point haptic behavior comes to a sudden halt.In many Arab countries, men frequently touch each other in public, or walk arm in arm down the street. This behaviour could suggest a sexual relationship between them in other cultures.

Remland and Jones (1995) recorded the touching behaviour of a number of different groups of people while communicating. They found that in England (8%), France (5%) and the Netherlands (4%) touching was relatively rare compared to their Italian (14%) and Greek (12.5%) sample.

The degree of touch we engage in also tells us the relationship we share with the person by comparing our touching behaviour with the social norm. Haptics can help a person to recover from depression, counsel a frightened child and build a lasting relationship with people more compared to the extent of what words can do. The disabled, old aged, terminally ill and the mentally unstable people, are some groups of people who get very little exposure to human touch. This may affect the rate of recovery. That is why pets are being introduced in hospitals as part of the treatment for the terminally ill. The touch and warmth they recieve form these animals have proven to improve their speed of recovery tremendously.


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