It is clear that a crying baby provokes a reaction from people; especially if these people are the parents of the kid or airline passengers trying to get some rest. What is less obvious, though, is that this sound can be helpful while performing a certain task. Researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at the Oxford University have conducted an experiment which, they assure, proves that a baby’s cry activates some ‘high alert’ state, which is good for under-pressure activities.
To conduct the experiment, 40 volunteers were asked to play the game “Whac-a-mole”, in which the participants have to hit moles popping up from any of 5 holes. In this case, according to the press release of the University of Oxford, playing this game meant hitting one of nine buttons as they light up. The scientists let the volunteers play after hearing various cries; including children crying, adults in distress and birdsongs. Both men and women performed better on the game after hearing the babies’ cries.
“’It has been clear that babies motivate adults to respond, and that hearing a baby cry must do something. For the first time, we have been able to show a real measurable benefit: we become better at time-pressured tasks,” says Professor Morten L. Kringelbach, co-author of the study. “Evolution has decided that it is a good thing for us to look after our young, and there is something in the acoustic properties of babies’ cries that evokes a very basic response that appears to be hardwired in ancient parts of our brains.”
While these results may have significant value for future research, it is still uncertain what practical use there may be: should we bring babies to high stress work environments?
Photo credit: Melimana
Parsons CE, Young KS, Parsons E, Stein A, & Kringelbach ML (2011). Listening to infant distress vocalizations enhances effortful motor performance. Acta paediatrica (Oslo, Norway : 1992) PMID: 22150522