Pleasure Function

GlossaryPleasure and Intelligence

Herbert James Campbell, a British neurologist, found in twenty-five years of research a universal principle which regulates the whole of our wellbeing and intelligence: the pleasure principle.

In 1973 Campbell published his book The Pleasure Areas which represents a summery of many years of neurological research. Campbell succeeded in demonstrating that our entire thinking and living is primarily motivated by pleasure.

Pleasure not only in a tactile-sensual or sexual way, but also as non-sensual, intellectual or spiritual pleasure. With these findings, the old theoretical controversy if man was primarily a biological or a spiritual being, became obsolete. For it is in the first place our striving for pleasure that induces certain interests in us, that drives us to certain actions and that lets us choose certain ways.

During childhood and depending on the outside stimuli we are exposed to, certain preferred pathways are traced in our brain, which means that specific neural connections are established that serve the information flow. The number of those connections is namely an indicator for intelligence.

The more of those preferred pathways exist in the brain of a person, the more lively appears that person, the more interested she will be in different things, and the quicker she will achieve integrating new knowledge into existing memory.

High memorization, Campbell found, is depending on how easily new information can be added-on to existing pathways of information. Logically, the more of those pathways exist, the better! Many preferred pathways make for high flexibility and the capacity to adapt easily to new circumstances.

Pleasure and Touch

This is true not only for full-range penetratory sexuality, but especially for tactile sexuality and non-sexual tactile contact, skin-skin contact among adults and among children, and cross-generationally the mutually desired peau-à-peau between parents and children, tutelary and non-tutelary adults and children, adults and adolescents, as well as adolescents and children.

Campbell’s research indicates that the repression of pleasure that is since centuries part of our Judeo-Christian culture, has negatively infringed upon human evolution and impaired the integrity of our psychosomatic health. This is exactly what Wilhelm Reich found—without having had at his disposition Campbell’s neurological findings.

Not only neurologists such as Campbell have thought about the basic functions of life and living, but also people who were formerly active in totally different fields of science. The American scientists Ashley Montagu and James W. Prescott had very different points of departure for their extensive research. Montagu wanted to know why in animal experiments small rhesus apes died when they were deprived from their mother while they survived when a simple felt mat was put in the cage as surrogate of motherly tactile affection. Prescott researched on the origins of violence. He did from the start oppose the age-old myth that man was per se a violent creature even though human history, or what historians saw of it, seemed to prove it.

Both scientists basically came to the same result: tactile stimulation of the infant is a main source of early pleasure gratification and a condition for human health, for harmony, and for peace. Ashley Montagu’s research developed quickly a specific focus with regard to the importance of the human skin as a primary pleasure provider. Grant’s Method of Anatomy defines the skin as the most extended and the most varied of all our sensory organs.

Montagu’s study Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin was the final result of thirty years of skin research, not only Montagu’s, but of many others whose research Montagu evaluates in his study. Ashley Montagu’s research is highly interesting with regard to our understanding of tactile stimulation in early childhood.

Montagu’s specific focus during his research was upon the mammal mothers’ licking the young. He found astonishing unity in zoologists’ opinions as to the importance of this mo­therly licking for the survival of the offspring. He discovered that it was in the first place the perineal zone of the young that the mother preferably and repeatedly licked. Experiments in which mammal mothers were impeded from licking this zone of the young resulted in functional disturbances or even chronic sickness of the genito-urinary tract of the young animals.

Ashley Montagu concluded from this research that the licking did not serve hygienic purposes only, but was intended to provide a tactile stimulation for the organs that were underlying the part of the skin that was licked.

However, Montagu further concluded, licking did almost not happen in the mother-child relationship with primates or humans. With one exception: Montagu found an Eskimo tribe, the Ingalik, where the mother licks face and hands of the baby in order to clean them, until the baby is old enough to sit on the bench.

Most researchers found that during evolution, licking was gradually replaced by eye or skin contact between mother and child. The tactile needs of the small child seemed to correspond to the desire of the parents to express love through tactile affection such as kissing or fondling, or pressing the child’s naked body against one’s own during sleep or rest (very common with Eskimos or Indian tribes).

In the run of industrial civilization, however, this has changed fundamentally.

Modern pediatrics and child psychologists recommend parents to put their children in separate rooms and beds so that parents and children are physically separated. This is the main reason why the civilized child gets much less of tactile stimulation in early childhood that children from tribal cultures, a fact that Jean Liedloff has so well demonstrated in her alarming book The Continuum Concept.

Ashley Montagu and James W. Prescott, coming from different scientific angles, concluded as to the importance of early tactile stimulation for the psychic and physical health of the child and later adult. A direct relationship was discovered by both researchers between early tactile stimulation and the functioning of the immune system of the child. This relationship was corroborated by France’s world-famous obstetricians, Frederick Leboyer and Michel Odent. As Michel Odent writes in his book La Santé Primale:

It is not yet completely understood that sensorial perceptions at the beginning of life can be a way to stimulate the ‘primary brain,’ at a time when the ‘system of primary adaptation’ is not yet grown to maturity. More specifically, this signifies for example that, if one fondles a human baby or an animal baby, one also stimulates his immune system.

Source: Michel Odent, La Santé Primale, p. 24 (translation mine)

Montagu states that love was once defined as the harmony of two souls and the contact of two epidermises. In this sense the peau à peau that is nowadays even recommended by pediatricians, is a foremost condition for the healthy growth of children, the good functioning of their immune system and, last not least, the early creation of preferred pathways in their brains. Skin contact thus favors high intelligence.

In his research with rhesus, Montagu reached astonishing findings. When he deprived the newborns of their mother and let them in the naked cage, they died. When he did the same, but put a kind of felt mat in the cage, they survived, although they carried away some brain damage from the deprivation of the mother. However, it was a fact that the felt mat assured their survival. How could that be? Montagu went one step further.

He replaced the mother through a felt mother that was hung in the cage. Now the young did not only survive but they also had almost no more brain damage. It was especially the first part of the experiment that intrigued Montagu: that the young survived simply by the fact that a felt mat was put in the cage. Further observations led Montagu to see that the young rhesus used the carpet to give to their bodies tactile stimulation, which obviously served as a compensate for the tactile stimulation they normally got from their mother in form of licking. The interesting fact about this experiment is that it was not the milk of the mother nor her care that was essential for the young’s survival, but exclusively her providing some form of tactile pleasure. The felt of the carpet was similar to the mother’s fur and therefore acceptable for the young as a mother surrogate.

This research shows how important tactile stimulation is with mammals, and so much the more with humans where primary symbiosis is even more prolonged. James W. Prescott’s research particularly focused on the consequences of early tactile deprivation. In his article Body Pleasure and the Origins of Violence Prescott uses R.B. Textor’s supra-cultural statistics in order to scientifically corroborate his highly explosive and political conclusions.

Already in the 1930s Wilhelm Reich disproved the very widespread misconception that sadistic and destructive tendencies were part of human nature. He strongly opposed Freud and his theory of a death instinct, stating that those destructive instincts were but secondary drives, a direct consequence of the cultural repression of the natural sexual instinct which had brought about a collective neurosis in the human animal. In his book Children of the Future, he outlines an emotionally and psychosexually sane education of children – within a future society that accepts biogenic regulation, the natural self-regulation of biosystems that so far was always denied under patriarchy and with the typical and redundant arguments of fundamentalist religious or political moralism.

Pleasure and Violence

Reich’s findings, at the time violently opposed by the majority of his scientific colleagues, are now confirmed by the violence research of James W. Prescott, Ph.D.,  findings which bring statistic evidence as to the malleability of the human individual through his early tactile experiences or the absence of such experiences:

Recent research supports the point of view that the deprivation of physical pleasure is a major ingredient in the expression of physical violence. The common association of sex with violence provides a clue to understanding physical violence in terms of deprivation of physical pleasure. (…) Although physical pleasure and physical violence seem worlds apart, there seems to be a subtle and intimate connection between the two. Until the relationship between pleasure and violence is understood, violence will continue to escalate.

Source: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 10-20 (1975), pp. 10, 11.

It is interesting what Prescott wrote in the introduction to his study:

Unless the causes of violence are isolated and treated, we will continue to live in a world of fear and apprehension. Unfortunately, violence is often offered as a solution to violence. Many law enforcement officials advocate ‘get tough’ policies as the best method to reduce crime. Imprisoning people, our usual way of dealing with crime, will not solve the problem, because the causes of violence lie in our basic values and the way in which we bring up our children and youth. Physical punishment, violent films and TV programs teach our children that physical violence is normal.

Source: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 10-20 (1975), p. 10.

Prescott thus fully confirmed Reich’s earlier research and corroborated his socio-economic and sex-economic findings. More specifically, James W. Prescott found a noteworthy relationship between pleasure and violence. Referring to laboratory experiments with animals, he could detect a sort of reciprocal relationship between pleasure and violence, i.e. that the presence of pleasure inhibits violence—and vice versa. Prescott states:

A raging, violent animal will abruptly calm down when electrodes stimulate the pleasure centers of its brain. Likewise, stimulating the violence centers in the brain can terminate the animal’s sensual pleasure and peaceful behavior. When the brain’s pleasure circuits are ‘on,’ the violence circuits are ‘off,’ and vice versa. Among human beings, a pleasure-prone personality rarely displays violence or aggressive behaviors, and a violent personality has little ability to tolerate, experience, or enjoy sensuously pleasing activities. As either violence or pleasure goes up, the other goes down.

Source: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 10-20 (1975), p. 10.

Furthermore, Prescott found a direct relationship between the child rearing methods of a given culture, and the degree of violence that reigns in that culture. In detail, he found that societies that tend to rear children in a rather Spartan way, hostile to pleasure and with little or no tactile stimulation, cherish in their value system various forms of violence, do warfare, torture their enemies, practice slavery and progeny and concede to women and children a rather low social status; these societies also exhibit a high crime rate.

Another violence-indicating parameter in a society, Prescott found, is physical violence towards children in form of corporal punishment. Furthermore, repression or tolerance of children’s sexual life plays a decisive role in the assessment if a society has a high or low violence potential:

Thus, we seem to have a firmly based principle: Physically affectionate human societies are highly unlikely to be physically violent. Accordingly, when physical affection and pleasure during adolescence as well as infancy are related to measures of violence, we find direct evidence of a significant relationship between the punishment of premarital sex behaviors and various measures of crime and violence.

Source: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 10-20 (1975), p. 13.

As a result of his research, Prescott advocates the abolishment of corporeal punishment of children, a rise of the social status of women, the reinstitution of the extended family, the reintegration of the elder and a more active participation of men with child-rearing and the granting of physical affection to children in their role as fathers or educators.


  • H.J. Campbell, The Pleasure Areas, London: Eyre Methuen Ltd., 1973.
  • Grant’s Method of Anatomy, 10th ed., Baltimore, London: Williams & Wilkins, 1980, p. 61.
  • Ashley Montagu, Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin, New York: Colombia University Press, 1971.
  • Frederick Leboyer, Pour une Naissance sans Violence, Paris: Seuil, 1974, Birth Without Violence, New York, 1975, Cette Lumière d’où vient l’Enfant, Paris: Seuil, 1978.
  • Michel Odent, La Santé Primale, Paris: Payot, 1986.
  • James W. Prescott, Deprivation of Physical Affection as a Primary Process in the Development of Physical Violence, A Comparative and Cross-Cultural Perspective, in: David G. Gil, ed., Child Abuse and Violence, New York: Ams Press, 1979, pp. 77, 78.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close