The urge to be close to and in contact with another living being; usually classified as a “general drive,” that is, one that is unlearned and without a specific physiological basis.The affectional drive can be expressed in many ways—through caressing, hugging and kissing as well as warm devotion and “tender loving care.” It originates in the need for closeness and contact with others. Today, many psychologists believe this need to be innate since it is manifested soon after birth and does not appear to be basically dependent on any conditioning or other learning process. The best evidence for this lies in the fact that infants and young children experience undeniable satisfaction in being held, cuddled, and petted, and usually show signs of suffering if they are treated coldly and mechanically.Although the need for affection is widely believed to be a fundamental component of human nature, some observers maintain that it is a by-product of other satisfactions. A few have suggested that it stems from a need for stimulation, or “stimulus hunger.” Others, notably Freudians, claim that the young child becomes attached to the mother or other persons because of the role they play in gratifying his basic needs. As Jersild has expressed it, “Briefly put, he loves his mother because he loves his milk.” This author goes on to point out: “In one sense, the question we have raised is academic, for whether the need for receiving and giving affection is original or acquired, it eventually plays a powerful role in the child’s life. In another sense, however, it is not academic, for it touches on a basic issue in the philosophy of human growth. Our view of human potentialities is quite different if, for example, we assume that it is at least as natural for a child to love as to hate.” (Jersild, 1960).There are two aspects of the aflfec- tional drive: the need to receive affection and the need to bestow it. Craving for affection may be the more fundamental in the sense that it appears earlier in infancy. Yet the child makes affectionate responses as soon as he is capable of patting or stroking his mother. The more important point is that the two sides of the drive develop hand in hand, since careful observations show that children who receive a great deal of warmth always develop close attachments to other people, while those who are not loved and accepted tend to be cold and detached. There is further evidence in the fact that children raised in normal homes show more friendly than unfriendly responses toward both children and adults. Moreover, an intensive study of 261 well-adjusted children has shown that the most important single contributor to their good relationships was satisfaction of their need for love and acceptance. (Langdon and Stout, 1952)Only a limited amount of experimental work has been done on the affec- tional drive in human beings, since it would be considered unethical to deprive children of affection for research purposes. But even if this were, done, the experiments could not be adequately controlled since children develop slowly and come in contact with many outside influences. For these reasons, Harlow and his associates have experimented with baby monkeys, especially since these animals not only develop quickly, but resemble human infants in many ways, including the ability to manipulate objects and feed from a bottle. In one series of experiments, several baby monkeys were taken from their mothers shortly after birth and placed in cages which contained two types of artificial “mothers,” one made of wire and the other of sponge rubber and terry cloth applied to a wire frame. Both of these “mother machines” or “mother surrogates” were heated from within, but there was no attempt to make them resemble monkeys other than giving them crude torsos, heads, and faces. When the baby monkeys were given a choice of “mothers,” they almost completely ignored the wire mother but spent considerable time clinging to the cloth mother. This suggested that softness and “cuddliness” have a great deal to do with the infant’s reactions (PLATE 1).In a second series of experiments, feeding bottles were attached to some of the wire mothers and some of the cloth mothers. The baby monkeys that were given an opportunity to feed from the wire mother alone usually remained with it only long enough to satisfy their appetites, and then went over to the cloth mother for cuddling. On the other hand, the monkeys that were allowed to feed from the cloth figure spent both their feeding and cuddling time with this substitute mother. This finding lends support to the idea that the affectional drive is independent of the nutritional drive, although we have to be careful about transferring this idea from animal to human behavior.A third series of experiments produced results that are even closer to human reactions. When baby monkeys were put in a strange but empty room, they invariably cowered in the comer. If the wire mother previously used for feeding was put in the room, this response did not change. If the cloth mother was there, however, the monkey rushed over and clung desperately to it. What is more, it soon gathered “confidence” enough to leave the cloth mother and explore its new surroundings. This experiment leaves little doubt that the cloth mother is more than a comfortable resting place. Like the human mother, it serves as a sanctuary and source of security when the infant is frightened and faced with danger. (Harlow and Zimmermann, 1959).These early observations must be tempered by later findings. Even though the monkeys preferred the cloth mothers, they did not develop normally if they were raised completely on these mother substitutes. They became so aggressive that they were unable to play, and some failed to mate with other monkeys when they reached maturity. They also engaged in stereotyped behavior and in some cases inflicted wounds on themselves. Once they were grown, attempts to alter these disordered patterns were of no avail. However, when monkeys raised on substitute mothers were given an opportunity to play together during infancy, they later showed normal adult behavior. This finding points up the importance of “peer group relations.” In fact, they were found to be essential even when the infants were raised with their natural mothers (Harlow, 1962). Apparently close contact with living beings is required for normal development, but that contact must include peers as well as the mother—at least for monkeys.Any attempt to apply these findings to human beings must be made with caution. Yet they do help to substantiate a basic drive for contact because of the continuity between animal and human behavior. The warmth of the mother’s body is probably the fundamental source of comfort for the newborn infant, but within a few weeks her presence alone will give the child a sense of safety and security. His own affectionate responses are elicited not only by bodily contact, but by the loving care and attention he receives along with it, both from the father and the mother.As the child’s capacity to respond to affection grows, so does his capacity to express affection toward others. If he lives in a reasonably happy and accepting environment, and comes in contact with friendly playmates and devoted adults, this capacity continues to develop and extend itself. During adolescence it is further amplified—and complicated—by the addition of the sexual component, and the total drive reaches its highest and most productive expression in a good marriage and a warm family life.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "AFFECTIONAL DRIVE," in, November 28, 2018, (accessed October 6, 2022).


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