Adults learn from babies to recognize their cries

Small children cannot speak, they only sniffle, cooing, screaming, crying, etc. Parents, however, understand them. But this understanding does not arise immediately, as soon as a person has children. You need experience in communicating with dumb babies, otherwise you simply won’t be able to tell if a child is crying simply because he is uncomfortable, or if something hurts him.

Researchers from the Jean Monnet University set up an experiment in which those who had not yet had children, young parents and those whose children had already grown up participated; in addition, professional nannies-babysitters and those who from time to time had to take care of other people’s small children participated in the experiment. For a couple of days, they all regularly listened to the recording of infant cries. The baby was the same, but he screamed in eight different ways, that is, these were eight different states of discomfort and pain, which he tried to communicate to others.

After such training, adults were asked to listen to another series of infantile cries and try to distinguish when the child was in pain and when it was just uncomfortable; Moreover, the children were both already familiar and unfamiliar. In an article in Current Biology it is said that those who had very little or no experience of communicating with children were the worst to distinguish infant cries. At the same time, those who had at least somehow dealt with children understood them better than those who had never encountered children. The cries were best distinguished by parents, but not those who had children just now, but those who had them some time ago. Such parents could well distinguish emotions in the voice of even completely unfamiliar children.

In turn, parents with children who had grown up a long time ago and professional nannies understood the voices of unfamiliar children less well. Parents here could already forget a lot, that before professional nannies, nurses, etc., they, as the authors of the work believe, have a certain insensitivity to children’s cries – because they simply have to communicate with a large number of children at work.

One way or another, the ability to understand speechless babies is not hardwired into our psyche and is not activated by the first infant cry. So perhaps we need to be sympathetic to young parents who at first decipher their child’s screams only by trial and error – as with any language, it takes time to learn.

Source: Автономная некоммерческая организация "Редакция журнала «Наука и жизнь»" by

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