Interpreting your baby’s cry

I’ve always wondered whether it’s possible to interpret a baby’s cry, to become an expert in your baby’s tired cry, or learn what a hungry or bored cry sounds like. Surely, that would be a great tool to have at your disposal.  It would certainly cut down on the number of times you change nappies unnecessarily, or offer food when it’s not really needed.  However, research is not very encouraging on this front. These authors suggest that in fact we are quite bad at identifying different types of cries. In this experiment, adults were asked to sort recordings of baby’s cries into  those cause by anger, tiredness or pain.  Accuracy on all these categories was low, however adults performed best when identifying cries from pain. The researchers noted that when an infant cries in pain and fear, the cry is at peak intensity throughout, while in anger, the intensity increases over time.  Also observed was that when an infant is in pain, she closes her eyes when crying, but when crying in fear or anger, the eyes are open. While this study doesn’t bode well for wannabe baby whisperers, one thing that may give encouragement, is that these adults and babies had no previous relationship.  Those making the judgements were university students and the baby’s cries had been previously recorded.  Perhaps accuracy may have been higher if the experiment had been done with parent and baby dyads. Intuitively, it seems that tapping into the parent/child relationship may give different results.




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