The Human Hunger for Strokes and Time Structuring

If you touch me soft and gentle

If you look at me and smile at me

If you listen to me talk sometimes before you talk

I will grow, really grow.

......Bradley (age 9)

Every person has the need to be touched and to be recognized by other people, and every person has the need to do something with the time between birth and death. These are biological and psychological needs that Berne called "hungers."

The hungers for touch and recognition can be appeased with strokes, which are "any act implying recognition of another's presence" [I] Strokes can be given in the form of actual physical touch or by some symbolic form of recognition such as a look, a word, a gesture, or any act that says "I know you're there."

People's hunger for strokes often determines what they do with their time. They may, for example, spend minutes, hours, or a lifetime trying to get strokes in many ways, including playing psychological games. They may spend minutes, hours, or a lifetime trying to avoid strokes by withdrawing.


Infants will not grow normally without the touch of others. This need is usually met in the every day intimate transactions of diapering, feeding, burping, powdering, fondling and caressing that nurturing parents give their babies. Something about being touched stimulates an infant's chemistry for mental and physical growth. Infants who are neglected, ignored, or for any reason do not experience enough tough suffer mental and physical deterioration even to the point of death.

New-born infants, isolated from normal touching after birth, young children placed in detention facilities, and children reared under the theory that "picking up babies spoils them" may have a touch deprivation similar to serious nutritional deficiencies. Both impair growth.

Among transactional analysts there is a saying, "If the infant is not stroked, his spinal cord shrivels up"

As a child grows older, the early primary hunger for actual physical touch is modified and becomes recognition hunger. A smile, a nod, a word, a frown, a gesture eventually replace some touch strokes. Like touch, these forms of recognition, whether positive or negative, stimulate the brain of the one receiving them and serve to verify for the child the fact that she or he is there and alive. Recognition strokes also keep the child's nervous system from "shriveling."

Some people need a great deal of recognition in order to feel secure. This hunger can be strongly felt anywhere-in the home, the classroom, even on the job. In an industrial situation a supervisor complained that one of his lab workers was spending too much time at the water cooler, leaving his isolated lab every hour looking for someone to talk to. The supervisor, after being trained in TA, made it a practice to poke his head in the lab at intervals for a brief, friendly conversation with this worker. The trips into the hallway diminished considerably. As this supervisor discovered, the varying human needs for recognition confront anyone who works with people. Effective managers are often those who are able to touch and recognize others appropriately.




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