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Psychological Responses to Massage seen in Infants; Are Infants our best Indicators to Combat Worldwide Problems?

Psychological Responses to Massage seen in Infants; Are Infants our best Indicators to Combat Worldwide Problems?

Building on from my previous blog post about the placebo regarding general techniques massage, I have decided to look at some less known, positive effects of massage, how they affect the mind and body, and whether they can be classified as true placebo effects. For instance; light massage versus moderate massage in infant children, and how it affects their growth and development after birth. Infants are ideal to carry studies out when testing for placebo. Their mind is not yet fully developed, thus they don’t normally elicit placebo responses (Harris et al, 2013).

Harris’s study looked at whether giving dextrose gel was an effective way to treat hypoglycaemic infants (infants with very low blood sugar levels), to prevent brain damage later in life. The study( 0-1 month of life) concluded that it was a viable method of decreasing the chance of hypoglycaemia, but what was most interesting about this study was that the control group, the infants who got placebo gel, did not illicit a response and were at higher risk of being hypoglycaemic later in life- no placebo was observed. Similar responses in infants was also observed by Ang et al, 2012, thus the idea that infants, who are still yet to fully develop their brain, will not illicit a placebo is likely a viable one, as opposed to older people (children and adults) where a placebo response is much more likely (Weeks et al, 2011).

The first month of infant development is crucial as the mind and body are both growing rapidly. A study carried out by Field (2004) was to compare the growth rates of infants (0-1 month) that received light pressure massage versus moderate pressure massage. The trial, (n=96), was made up of a range of cultures; with 57% Hispanic, 23% African American, 5% Caucasian, and 15% other. The results clearly showed that infants who received moderate pressure massage as opposed to light pressure massage had improved weight and length after one month, likely due to increased efficiency of food absorption (Field et al, 2004, Field et al, 2007). Having already considered the idea that infants show minimal to nil signs of placebo, and any response that is seen must actually be happening and helping is intriguing in this study. As well as positive physiological outcomes from the study positive results were seen happening on the mind.

A test that was implemented during the study, called The Brazelton Scale, is a multi area assessment used to determine a newborn’s development in areas including orientation, habituation and depression (Brazelton Institute). The results of the Field’s study indicated a significant difference (p= 0.001) when it came to the different types of massage in several areas (orientation and habituation) as well a lower depression score (p= 0.2). These changes on the mind and how the infant was acting could not be described as placebo; infants of this age simply do not elicit such strong responses to these tests.

If there is such a strong case shown in infants, where placebo has minimal to nil effects; that massage can positively impact both physiological and psychological changes why is there no proof of this in the adult population? Could malnourished children benefit from massage? Could children who find it difficult to learn also benefit from massage therapy? Could even depressed people who are struggling in life show some sort of positive outcome associated with massage?

It is hard to tell whether anything witnessed in the infancy stage of life can be reflected in later years but it is worth a try. What is the worst that can happen? Further research is a must.

I hope you have gained a better understanding about the effects of massage on infants and maybe even ponder a question about what positive effects massage could have on your life?

Thanks for reading


Word Count: 653



Ang, J, Y,. Lua, J, L,. Mathur, A,. Thomas, R,. Asmar, B, I,. Savasan, S,. Buck, S,. Long, M & Shankaran, S. 2012. A Randomised Placebo-Controlled Trial of Massage Therapy on the Immune System of Preturn Infants. Official Journal of American Academy of Paediatrics. 130, (6).

Brazelton Institute, Updated 2012, Multiple Authors

Field, T,. Hernandez-Reif, M,. Diego, M,. Feijo, L,. Vera, Y & Gil, K,. 2004. Massage Therapy by Parents Improves early growth and Development. University of Miami Department of Paediatrics, School of Medicine.


Field, T,. Diego, M & Hernandez-Reif, M,. 2007. Massage Therapy Research. University of Miami Department of Paediatrics, School of Medicine.

Harris, D, L,. Weston, P, J,. Signal, M,. Chase, G, J & Harding, J, E,. 2013. Dextrose gel for neonatal hypoglycaemia (the Sugar Babies); a randomised, double-blind, Placebo-controlled trial. Newborn Intensive care unit Hamilton, New Zealand, Pediactrics.

Weeks, R, E & Newman, E,. 2011. Behavioural factors in the placebo response. Neurological Science, The official Journal of the Italian Neurological Society. Springer. (32), 1.




This blog was started for a Uni subject, and has since evolved into a place where I can voice my thoughts, typically about coaching and sport. I grew up in Sydney, then moved to Canberra for some further study in 2011 and when I finished in 2014 I moved up to Brisbane. I have played, coached and generally been involved with volleyball since 2013. As of 2017 I am now the QAS Volleyball Assistant Coach.

One thought on “Psychological Responses to Massage seen in Infants; Are Infants our best Indicators to Combat Worldwide Problems?

  1. Hi Simon,

    Interesting point. For part 3, you need to be much more scientific in your writing though. And remember that you are writing for a sport psychology assignment! Instead of writing (and in effect describing) a study that has found this in infants, be insightful and use this as a basis to find something out in sport psyche. We already know the effects in infants (as you have pointed out), so how can we find out if the same effects are seen in sports men/women. Design that study well and we have ourselves a good, insightful essay that actually adds to what we already know, rather than describing research. There’s an issue there that this research exists in infants but we don’t know if it will translate, so what do we as sport psychologists care? Answer that question (remembering to critique your own research – no research is perfect and identifying the problems with your own is impressive)

    Good luck


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