This article has three parts. It deals with somatosensory deprivation as a potential cause of violence. I have scanned and HTMLized much of Dr. Prescott's research (with his permission and consent for free distribution). You can find it online at . Outside of E2, please refer to that URL, since it includes improved formatting and images.
The first part is here. The third part is here.
This article does not include further hard links for the reason of source authenticity. Feel free to add relevant soft links.
p. 15, November 1975, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
cilitate competitive, aggressive, and violent behaviors and
opposes drugs that counteract such behaviors. Alcohol is well
known to facilitate the expression of violent behaviors, and,
although addicting and very harmful to chronic users, is
acceptable to U.S. society. Marijuana, on the other hand, is an
active pleasure-inducing drug which enhances the pleasure of
touch and actively inhibits violent-aggressive behaviors. It is
for these reasons, I believe that marijuana is rejected in U.S.
society. For similar reasons heroin is rejected and methadone (an
addicting drug minus the pleasure) is accepted.
The data from my questionnaire support this view. As Table 5
shows, very high correlations between alcohol use and parental
punishment indicate that people who received little affection
from their mothers and had physically punitive fathers are likely
to become hostile and aggressive when they drink. Such people
find alcohol more satisfying than sex. There is an even stronger
relationship between parental physical punishment and drug usage.
Respondents who were physically punished as children showed
alcohol-induced hostility and aggression and were likely to find
alcohol and drugs more satisfying than sex. The questionnaire
also reveals high correlations between sexual repression and drug
usage. Those who describe premarital sex as "not agreeable" are
likely to become aggressive when drinking and to prefer drugs and
alcohol to sexual pleasures. This is additional evidence for the
hypothesis that drug "pleasures" are a substitute for
Violence and Pleasure:
The Attitudes of College Students
The reciprocal relationship of violence and pleasure holds true
in modern industrial nations as well as primitive societies.
This theory was tested by means of a questionnaire given to 96
college students (average age: 19). The results showed that
students who have relatively negative attitudes toward sexual
pleasure tend to favor harsh punishment for children and to
believe that violence is necessary to solve problems. The
students rated a series of statements on a scale of 1 to 6,
where 1 indicated strong agreement and 6 strong disagreement.
Through a statistical technique (factor analysis), a personality
profile of the violent person was developed. Table 5 shows the
degree of relationship among the various statements which
reflect social and moral values. The figures at left, known as
'loadings,' are treated like correlation coefficients. They
indicate the strength with which each variable contributes to
the overall personality description of the respondent as defined
by this specific profile.
Somatosensory Index of Human Affection
.85 Hard physical punishment is good for children who disobey
.81 Physical punishment and pain help build a strong moral
.80 Abortion should be punished by society.
.76 Capital punishment should be permitted by society.
.75 Violence is necessary to really solve our problems.
.74 Physical punishment should be allowed in the schools.
.69 I enjoy sadistic pornography.
.54 I often feel like hitting someone.
.43 I can tolerate pain very well.
Physical Pleasure Condemned
.84 Prostitution should be punished by society.
.80 Responsible premarital sex is not agreeable to me.
.78 Nudity within the family has a harmful influence upon
.73 Sexual pleasures help build a weak moral character.
.72 Society should interfere with private sexual behavior
.69 Responsible extramarital sex is not agreeable to me.
.61 Natural fresh body odors are often offensive.
.47 I do not enjoy affectional pornography.
.42 I often get "uptight" about being touched.
Alcohol and Drugs Rated Higher than Sex
.70 Alcohol Is more satisfying than sex.
.65 Drugs are more satisfying than sex.
.60 I get hostile and aggressive when I drink alcohol.
.49 I would rather drink alcohol than smoke marijuana.
.45 I drink alcohol more often than I experience orgasm.
.82 I tend to be conservative in my political points of view.
.77 Age (Older).
.51 I often dream of either floating, flying, falling, or
.45 My mother is often indifferent toward me.
.40 I remember when my father physically punished me a lot.
The collaboration of Douglas Wallace, Human Sexuality Program,
University of California Medical School, San Francisco, in the
questionnaire study is gratefully acknowledged.
This table is a slightly revised version. The original version
has been preserved.
The origins of the fundamental reciprocal relationship between
physical violence and physical pleasure can be traced to
philosophical dualism and to the theology of body/soul
relationships. In Western philosophical thought man was not a
unitary being but was divided into two parts, body and soul. The
Greek philosophical conception of the relationship between body
and soul was quite different than the Judeo-Christian concept
which posited a state of war between the body and soul. Within
Judeo-Christian thought the purpose of human life was to save the
soul, and the body was seen as an impediment to achieving this
objective. Consequently, the body must be punished and deprived.
In St. Paul's words: "Put to death the base pursuits of the body
-- for if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if
by the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live"
(Romans 8:13). St. Paul clearly advocated somatosensory pleasure
deprivation and enhancement of painful somatosen-
p. 16, November 1975, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
sory stimulation as essential prerequisites for saving the soul.
"Now concerning the things whereof you wrote to me: It is good
for a man not to touch a woman" (1 Corinthians, 7:1).
Aristotle did not view a state of war between the body and soul,
but rather envisioned a complimentary relationship in which the
state of the soul or mind was dependent on the state of the body.
In fact he stated that "the care of the body ought to precede
that of the soul." (Politica)
Aristotle also appreciated the reciprocal relationship between
pleasure and pain, and recognized that a compulsive search for
bodily pleasure originates from a state of bodily discomfort and
Now, excess is possible in the case of the goods of the
body, and it is the pursuit of excess, but not the
pursuit of necessary pleasures, that makes a man bad.
For all men get some kind of enjoyment from good food,
wine, and sexual relations, but not everyone enjoys
these things in the proper way. The reverse is true of
pain: a bad person does not avoid an excess of it, but
he avoids it altogether. For the opposite of an excess
is pain only for the man who pursues the excess. . . .
Accordingly, we must now explain why the pleasures of
the body appear to be more desirable. The first reason,
then, is that pleasure drives out pain. When men
experience an excess of pain, they pursue excessive
pleasure and bodily pleasure in general, in the belief
that it will remedy the pain. These remedial
(pleasures) become very intense -- and that is the very
reason why they are pursued because they are
experienced in contrast with their opposite.
(Nichomachean Ethics, Book 7)
It is clear that the world has only
limited time to change its custom of
resolving conflicts violently. It is
uncertain whether we have the time
to undo the damage done by countless
previous generations, nor do we know
how many future generations it will
take to transform our psychobiology
of violence into one of peace.
In his discussion of the highest good, Aristotle was quite
"Therefore, the highest good is some sort of pleasure, despite
the fact that most pleasures are bad, and, if you like, bad in
the unqualified sense of the word." (Nichomachean Ethics, Book 7)
It is evident that the Judeo-Christian concept of body pleasure
is quite the opposite of that outlined by Aristotle,
particularly, the relief of body pain and discomfort through
somatosensory pleasure. This denial of somatosensory pleasure in
Pauline Christian doctrine has led to alternative forms of
'relief' through such painful stimulations as hair-shirts,
self-scourgings, self-mutilations, physical violence against
others, and in the non-sensory pleasures of drugs.
Experimental animal studies have documented counterparts to these
phenomena. For example, animals deprived of somatosensory
stimulation will engage in mutilations of their own bodies.
Animals deprived of touching early in life develop impaired pain
perception and an aversion to being touched by others. They are
thus blocked from experiencing the body-pleasure therapy that
they need for rehabilitation. In this condition, they have few
alternatives but physical violence, where pain-oriented touching
and body contact is facilitated by their impaired ability to
experience pain. Thus, physical violence and physical pain become
therapies of choice for those deprived of physical pleasure.
The question arises as to how Christian philosophy and theology,
which borrowed heavily from Aristotle, managed to avoid, if not
outright reject, Aristotle's teachings regarding the morality of
pleasure. The roots to this question can be found throughout the
Old Testament, beginning with the account in Genesis of the
expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. The first
consequence of Eve's transgression was that nudity became
shameful. This even may well be the beginning of man's hostility
toward women and the equating of woman with evil, particularly
the evils of the body. This is vividly portrayed in Zechariah
(5:5-8) in an angel's description of the flying bushel:
"This is a bushel container coming. This is their guilt
in all the land." Then a leaden cover was lifted and
there was a woman sitting inside the bushel. "This is
wickedness, he said, and he thrust her inside the
bushel, pushing the leaden cover into the opening."
Violence against sexuality and the use of sexuality for violence,
particularly against women, has very deep roots in Biblical
tradition, and is spelled out very early. The nineteenth chapter
of Genesis (19:1-11), the first book of the Old Testament, holds
that the rape of woman is acceptable but the rape of man is "a
wicked thing." This chapter about the destruction of Sodom and
Gomorrah describes Lot's hospitality to two male travelers
(actually two angels) who were housed with him.
In the evening the townsmen of Sodom came to Lot's house and said
to him: "Where are the men who came to your house tonight? Bring
them out to us that we may have intimacies with them." Lot went
out to meet them at the entrance. When he had shut the door
behind him, he said, "I beg you, my brothers, not to do this
wicked thing. I have two daughters who have never had intercourse
with men. Let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as
you please. But don't do anything to these men, for you know they
have come under the shelter of my roof." They replied, "Stand
back! This fellow," they sneered, "came here as an immigrant, and
now he dares to give orders! We'll treat you worse than them!"
With that, they pressed hard against Lot, moving in closer to
break down the door. But his guests put out their hand, pulled
Lot inside with them, and closed the
p. 17, November 1975, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
door; at the same time they struck the men at the entrance of the
house, one and all, with such blinding light that they were
utterly unable to reach the doorway.
As the story continues, the two angels escort Lot and his family
to safety and then destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their great
sinfulness. Yet not a word of reproach is given to Lot for his
willingness to hand over his two virgin daughters to be gang
raped. This same story is repeated in the books of Ezekiel
(23:1-49) and Judges (19:22-30).
Given such a tradition, it is understandable that during the
Inquisition only women were charged with having intercourse with
the devil and put to death for this crime of pleasure. What man
has died at the stake for having slept with Satan? This tradition
is maintained in modern cultures where women are punished for
prostitution but their male customers are not.
The historical and Biblical acceptance of rape down through the
ages has brutalized the psyche of males brought up in this
tradition. This is well illustrated in the account of Michael
McCusker, a Marine sergeant who witnessed a gang rape in Vietnam.
McCusker 7 tells of a rifle squad of nine men who entered a
They were supposed to go after what they called a Viet
Cong whore. They went into her village and instead of
capturing her, they raped her -- every man raped her.
As a matter of fact, one man said to me later that it
was the first time he had ever made love to a woman
with his boots on. The man who led the platoon, or the
squad, was actually a private. The squad leader was a
sergeant but he was a useless person and he let the
private take over his squad. Later he said he took no
part in the raid. It was against his morals. So instead
of telling his squad not to do it, because they
wouldn't listen to him anyway, the sergeant went into
another side of the village and just sat and stared
bleakly at the ground, feeling sorry for himself. But
at any rate, they raped the girl, and then, the last
man to make love to her, shot her in the head.
What is it in the American psyche that permits the use of the
word 'love' to describe rape? And where the act of love is
completed with a bullet in the head!
A happy mother caressing her child
The first months. Breast-feeding and caressing will help this
infant to grow into a non-violent adult. Denial of such body
contact in infancy can have the opposite effect.
Why do men rape women? Researchers report that most rapists have
a family background of paternal punishment and hostility and loss
of maternal affection. I interpret rape as man's revenge against
woman for the early loss of physical affection. A man can express
his hostility toward his mother for not giving him enough
physical attention by sexually violating another woman.
Another explanation may be that the increasing sexual freedom of
women is threatening to man's position of power and dominance
over women which he often maintains through sexual aggression.
Rape destroys sensual pleasure in woman and enhances sadistic
pleasure in man. Through rape, man defends himself from the
sensual pleasures of women which threaten his position of power
It is my belief that rape has its
Swedish paper doll that does not hide or idealize female sexuality
Realistic dolls. Swedish paper doll exemplifies the frankness about
the human body that is needed to inculcate wholesome attitudes
toward sex and violence. In this paper doll, no attempt is made to
idealize or de-sexualize the human body; the body is simply accepted
as it is.
p. 18, November 1975, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
origins in the deprivation of physical affection in parent-child
relationships and adult sexual relationships; and in a religious
value system that considers pain and body deprivation moral and
physical pleasure immoral. Rape maintains man's dominance over
woman and supports the perpetuation of patriarchal values in our
Rearing Environment and Brain Cells
This figure shows the effects of the rearing environment upon a
type of nerve cell (called a stellate) which is found in the
fourth layer of a rat's visual cortex. The number of branches of
the dendrites is much greater in animals reared in groups in a
toy-filled environment (called enriched environmental condition,
EC) than the number which occurs when two rats are reared
together in an ordinary cage (called social condition, SC) or
when rats are reared alone in ordinary cages (called isolate
These data show that extreme conditions of sensory/social
deprivation are not necessary to alter brain structure, and that
an enriched sensory/social environment can increase the
complexity of brain cells. Dendrites, which are usually branched
like a tree, are the part of the nerve cell (neuron) which
carries the nerve impulse to the cell body; and they are the
means by which brain cells communicate with one another. Brain
cells with many dendrites can influence and regulate the activity
of other brain cells more effectively than brain cells with fewer
or abnormal dendrites. It is believed that the complexity of
brain cells is related to the ability to solve complex problems
both of an intellectual and social nature, and that abnormal
dendritic structures underlie abnormal electrical 'spike'
discharges in the brain.
Source: Volkmar and Greenough 9.
It is clear that the world has only limited time to change its
custom of resolving conflicts violently. It is uncertain whether
we have the time to undo the damage done by countless previous
generations, nor do we know how many future generations it will
take to transform our psychobiology of violence into one of
If we accept the theory that the lack of sufficient somatosensory
pleasure is a principal cause of violence, we can work toward
promoting pleasure and encouraging affectionate interpersonal
relationships as a means of combatting aggression. We should give
high priority to body pleasure in the context of meaningful human
relationships. Such body pleasure is very different from
promiscuity, which reflects a basic inability to experience
pleasure. If a sexual relationship is not pleasurable, the
individual looks for another partner. A continuing failure to
find sexual satisfaction leads to a continuing search for new
partners, that is, to promiscuous behavior. Affectionately shared
physical pleasure, on the other hand, tends to stabilize a
relationship and eliminate the search. However, a variety of
sexual experiences seems to be normal in cultures which permit
its expression, and this may be important for optimizing pleasure
and affection in sexual relationships.
Available data clearly indicate that the rigid values of
monogamy, chastity, and virginity help produce physical violence.
The denial of female sexuality must give way to an acceptance and
respect for it, and men must share with women the responsibility
for giving affection and care to infants and children. As the
father assumes a more equal role with the mother in child-rearing
and becomes more affectionate toward his children, certain
changes must follow in our socioeconomic system. A corporate
structure which tends to separate either parent from the family
by travel, extended meetings, or overtime work weakens the
parent-child relationship and harms family stability. To develop
a peaceful society, we must put more emphasis on human
Family planning is essential. Children must be properly spaced so
that each can receive optimal affection and care. The needs of
the infant should be immediately met. Cross-cultural evidence
does not support the view that such practices will 'spoil' the
infant. Contrary to Dr. Benjamin Spock, it is harmful for a baby
to cry itself to sleep. By not answering an infant's needs
immediately and consistently we not only teach a child distrust
at a very basic emotional level, but also establish patterns of
neglect which harm the
p. 19, November 1975, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
child's social and emotional health. The discouragement of breast
feeding in favor of bottle feeding and the separation of healthy
newborns from their mothers in our 'modern' hospitals are other
examples of harmful child-rearing practices.
About 25 percent of marriages in the United States now end in
divorce, and an even higher percentage of couples have
experienced extramarital affairs. This suggests that something is
basically wrong with the traditional concept of universal
monogamy. When viewed in connection with the cross-cultural
evidence of the physical deprivations, violence, and warfare
associated with monogamy, the need to create a more pluralistic
system of marriage becomes clear. Contemporary experiments with
communal living and group marriage are attempting to meet basic
needs that remain unfulfilled in the isolation of a nuclear
marriage. We must seriously consider new options, such as
extended families comprised of two or three couples who share
values and lifestyles. By sharing the benefits and
responsibilities of child rearing, such families could provide an
affectionate and varied environment for children as well as
adults, and thereby reduce the incidence of child abuse and
The communal family -- like the extended family group -- can
provide a more stimulating and supportive environment for both
children and adults than can the average nuclear family. Communal
living should not, of course, be equated with group sex, which is
not a sharing, but more often an escape from intimacy and
Openness About the Body
No matter what type of family structure is chosen, it will be
important to encourage openness about the body and its functions.
From this standpoint, we could benefit from redesigning our homes
along the Japanese format, separating the toilet from the bathing
facilities. The family bath should be used for socialization and
relaxation, and should provide a natural situation for children
to learn about male-female differences. Nudity, like sex, can be
misused and abused, and this fear often prevents us from
accepting the honesty of our own bodies.
The beneficial stimulation of whirlpool baths should not be
limited to hospitals or health club spas, but brought into the
home. The family bath should be large enough to accommodate
parents and children, and be equipped with a whirlpool to
maximize relaxation and pleasure. Nudity, openness, and affection
within the family can teach children and adults that the body is
not shameful and inferior, but rather is a source of beauty and
sensuality through which we emotionally relate to one another.
Physical affection involving touching, holding, and caressing
should not be equated with sexual stimulation, which is a special
type of physical affection.
The competitive ethic, which teaches
children that they must advance at
the expense of others, should be
replaced by values of cooperation.
To Love, not Compete
The competitive ethic, which teaches children that they must
advance at the expense of others, should be replaced by values of
cooperation and a pursuit of excellence for its own sake. We must
raise children to be emotionally capable of giving love and
affection, rather than to exploit others. We should recognize
that sexuality in teenagers is not only natural, but desirable,
and accept premarital sexuality as a positive moral good. Parents
should help teenagers realize their own sexual selfhood by
allowing them to use the family home for sexual fulfillment. Such
honesty would encourage a more mature attitude toward sexual
relationships and provide a private supportive environment that
is far better for their development than the back seat of a car
or other undesirable locations outside the home. Early sexual
experiences are too often an attempt to prove one's adulthood and
maleness or femaleness rather than a joyful sharing of affection
Above all, male sexuality must recognize the equality of female
sexuality. The traditional right of men to multiple sexual
relationships must be extended to women. The great barrier
between man and woman is man's fear of the depth and intensity of
female sensuality. Because power and aggression are neutralized
through sensual pleasure, man's primary defense against a loss of
dominance has been the historic denial, repression, and control
of the sensual pleasure of women. The use of sex to provide mere
release from physiological tension (apparent pleasure) should not
be confused with a state of sensual pleasure which is
incompatible with dominance, power, aggression, violence, and
pain. It is through the mutual sharing of sensual pleasure that
sexual equality between women and men will be realized.
The sensory environment in which an individual grows up has a
major influence upon the development and functional organization
of the brain. Sensory stimulation is a nutrient that the brain
must have to develop and function normally. How the brain
functions determines how a person behaves. At birth a human brain
is extremely immature and new brain cells develop up to the age
of two years. The complexity of brain cell development continues
up to about 16 years of age. Herman Epstein of Brandeis
University has evidence that growth spurts in the human brain
occur at approximately 3, 7, 11, and 15 years of age. How
p. 20, November 1975, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
early deprivations affect these growth spurts has yet to be
determined; however, some data suggest that the final growth
spurt may be abolished by early deprivation.
W. T. Greenough, a psychologist at the University of Illinois,
has demonstrated that an enriched sensory environment produces a
more complex brain cell in rats than an ordinary or impoverished
sensory environment (see figure). His studies show that extreme
sensory deprivation is not necessary to induce structural changes
in the developing brain. Many other investigators have shown that
rearing rats in isolation after they are weaned induces
significant changes in the biochemistry of their brain cell
functioning. Other investigators have shown abnormal electrical
activity of brain cell functioning in monkeys reared in
isolation. I have suggested that the cerebellum, a brain
structure involved in the regulation of many brain processes, is
rendered dysfunctional when an animal is reared in isolation and
is implicated in violent-aggressive behaviors due to
somatosensory deprivation. It has been shown that cerebellar
neurosurgery can change the aggressive behaviors of
isolation-reared monkeys to peaceful behavior. Predatory killing
behavior in ordinary house cats can be provoked by stimulating
the cerebellar fastigial nucleus, one of the deep brain nuclei of