Sunday, September 11, 2011

Caring and comfort

When Lynn had to be away from home many days at a time during her graduate studies, she gave me a stuffed teddy bear to hug and console myself.  I still have it although I found that cuddling with her helped my mood much more than the bear.  

I am interested in little changes that we might make in our care of self and others that would help matters.  Both of the links above derive from the same wide-ranging blog, "Barking Up the Wrong Tree", written by Eric Barker and followed on my main blog page.  In searching with Google a little bit, I did not find much in the way of research results that validate the idea that adults benefit from having, hugging or stroking a stuffed animal.  However, that, in itself, proves very little.  

I have heard of animals from a local shelter being brought to a nursing home with what seemed to be good results for the elderly residents and the animals.  I might have heard of similar experiments with prisoners who began caring for a given animal, even if they only got to be with the animal part of the day.  My good friend, Mrs. C. acquired a new kitten lately.  "Noel" has enlivened the household to a surprising extent.

Ellen Langer, professor of psychology at Harvard, wrote in her book "Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility" about a experiment she conducted in a nursing home.  She had two groups of residents receive a plant for their rooms.  One group was told that the home's staff would look after the plant, keeping it properly watered and all.  The other group was told the plant was their responsibility.  After some weeks, the group with the new responsibility to care fared better on several measure of health and vitality.

A stuffed animal or an artificial plant don't have that focus on responsibility and needed care that living things do and might well not have as powerful an effect. We can have a responsibility to ourselves to snuggle the animal to our cheek and neck or stroke and pet it.  Great area for master's students to research.

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