The Science of Affection: Why Showing Love to Kids Matters

Research reveals how having warm, loving parents as a child helps you flourish as an adult

Alison Escalante MD
Published in
5 min readMar 12, 2020


Photo: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

AA recent study out of Harvard has found that people who had warm, affectionate parents in childhood live better lives. Most of us consider it common sense that a parent’s love goes a long way, affecting a child’s well-being and health in the moment and for years to come. But the size of that impact may be larger than we think.

The search for what determines our health and happiness in life has become a science unto itself. This particular study isolated one factor: whether people experienced their parents as affectionate. The association was clear and consistent; people who remember their parents as warm and loving are flourishing at much higher rates in adulthood. This was true even when the study controlled for socioeconomic and other factors.

What do they mean by flourishing?

Flourishing is a popular word for philosophers and theologians, but it refers to something doctors study under other terms. Simply put, it’s about the good life.

Tyler VanderWeele, one of the study authors and director of Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program, explains flourishing as “a state in which all aspects of a person’s life are good.”

When asked for more on that, he said, “There are five domains of life that are generally desired by everyone. While there are other dimensions of flourishing, these are the ones that are the consensus across traditions.”

The proof that loving our kids and expressing it affectionately is a key factor in their future well-being is wonderful news.

These domains include happiness and life satisfaction, physical and mental health, meaning and purpose, good character, and good relationships in the social dimension.

When we are truly flourishing, we have it all.

Why measure flourishing?

A happy life means more than simply not having a disease, but that insight is a recent development for researchers…



Alison Escalante MD

How can we take effective action under pressure? Forbes Contributor | TEDx Speaker | Pediatrician | PsychToday |