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Infant crying and adults' anticipated caregiving responses: acoustic and contextual influences

, : Infant crying and adults' anticipated caregiving responses: acoustic and contextual influences. Child Development 72(5): 1287-1300

These studies assessed adults' latencies to signal that they would respond to infant crying as functions of (1) the degree of infant distress they perceived in the cry, and (2) contextual information relevant to caregiving. In the first study (N = 34), listeners waited longer to respond to cries that they had earlier rated as sounding less distressed than when they heard cries of higher distress. Further, those who had been told that the infant needed sleep waited longer to respond than those without this information. This effect of context information, however, was limited to the latencies; in another study (N = 50), listeners' ratings of distress were not affected. Several acoustic features of the cries correlated with distress ratings and with latencies to signal a caregiving response. Taken together, the results suggest that adults' responses to crying are influenced both by acoustic gradations in the cry itself and by the caregiving context. Ratings of degree of distress manifest in the cry, in other words, may be highly predictive of caregiving behavior but not wholly so. Finally, although certain acoustic variations related to greater perceived distress and speed of response, differences were apparent between infants in the magnitude of these variations. The implication that the general process of cry perception may be calibrated, or fine tuned, to the range of acoustic variation provided by individual infants is discussed.


PMID: 11699671

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