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Baby cries create instant alertness

Margaret Jack  By Margaret Jack   |   Posted in Sleep Research   |   Last updated: Wednesday 17th October 2012

The sound of a baby crying has been revealed as one of the most effective noises to grab our attention and create alertness, underlining why it is so difficult to sleep through the sound. The Oxford University research found that baby cries prompted a neurological response that was far quicker than that experienced when hearing other sounds – taking just 100 milliseconds to register as something that requires urgent attention. Other noises used in the tests included cats, dogs and other animals in distress, as well as adults crying. The particular response to the baby crying sound shows that complex indicators of urgency and emotion are processed in that incredibly short space of time, when it was previously thought that just basic characteristics of pitch and volume were processed.

It is thought that the specific response to baby cries is related to the importance that generally accompanies the sound, which elevates it over general, less urgent environmental noises. Notably, the Oxford study used participants who didn’t have children of their own, indicating that the response reaction is hard-wired in all of our brains.

The results of the study were presented by researcher Katie Young at the Society for Neuroscience annual conference in New Orleans.

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