Throughout history there have been many theories on how important social experience is to human development, but what if a child were to have no social experience? Would the child still develop and become a normal functioning adult? Although scientists have never actually experimented with isolating humans, there have been cases of abuse in which children were socially isolated for long periods of time(Macionis J. & Gerber L. 2002, p.111-112).
With these cases to study and with social scientists theories on development we have begun to understand the significance of social interaction to the human development.
When social scientists studied cases of severe isolation in children, they realized that they did not have a personality, they just existed. They did not experience joy, anger, sadness or any emotion that would be consistent with a child that had been loved and held throughout their young lives. Harry and Margaret Harlow took this information and further explored it by placing monkeys in various situations of social isolation, they came to the conclusion that humans need human touch to thrive.
discovering this they also discovered that interaction itself is more important, no matter who the caregiver is as long as the basic human needs are being met. Basic human needs play a large part in human development and if all needs are not met at the appropriate ages the child may never have the capacity to use that part of their brain again, which means they might not ever be able to learn certain skills even if given the opportunity (Macionis J. and Gerber L. 2002,p.113). The different stages of human development fall into categories that were argued by psychologists to be the normal ways for a human to develop into a adult.All of these psychologists’ findings, further support the importance of social experience on the developing human mind.
One psychologist in particular was Jean Piaget (1896-1980) he studied cognitive development in normal well adjusted humans then broke, what he believed was human development, it into four stages, the first being the sensimotor stage. This stage suggests that for the first two years of life children learn entirely through their five senses. The second stage is the preoperational stage, this is the stage that the use of language is beginning. Finally there is the formal operational stage, which is when individuals begin to think and reason on their own (Macionis J. and Gerber L. 2002,p.116-117)
Using Piaget’s findings alone one could certainly conclude that social isolation at any stage could be detrimental to ones development. Unfortunately there are reported and studied cases in which human beings were exposed to this horrible form of abuse which obviously has long lasting, devastating effect on the poor children who were exposed to it.
1.Macionis J. & Gerber L: 2002. Sociology: Fourth Canadian Edition. Toronto: Prentice Hall