Infant Cries Affect Adult Cognition 

According to a study out of the University of Toronto, a baby’s cry not only commands our attention, it also rattles our executive functions – the very neural and cognitive processes we use for making everyday decisions.

One researcher said, “Parental instinct appears to be hardwired, yet no one talks about how this instinct might include cognition. If we simply had an automatic response every time a baby started crying, how would we think about competing concerns in the environment or how best to respond to a baby’s distress.”

The study looked at the differences between a baby’s laugh and cry and how that affected the adults who heard the sound. The researchers used the Stroop task – where participants were asked to rapidly identify the color of a printed word while ignoring the meaning of the word itself – in order to test the cognition of the adults in the study. The brains of the adults were measured after the two-second audio clip of either crying or laughing by the infant.

The results of the study included that the infant cries reduced attention to the task and triggered greater cognitive conflict processing than the infant laughs. The problem is when cognitive conflict is triggered our attention is compromised. While an infant’s cries have been known to cause aversion in adults, it also causes their brain to “switch on” into “parenting mode”.

One researcher noted that, “It’s this cognitive flexibility that allows parents to rapidly switch between responding to their baby’s distress and other competing demands in their lives-which, paradoxically, may mean ignoring the infant momentarily.” Interestingly, the researchers note that infants occupy a privileged status in our neurobiological programming.

So when your baby cries, know that it’s not just annoying it’s helping you parent and juggle everything in your daily life.


raziRazi Berry, Founder and Publisher of Naturopathic Doctor News & Review (ndnr.com) and NaturalPath (thenatpath.com), has spent the last decade as a natural medicine advocate and marketing whiz. She has galvanized and supported the naturopathic community, bringing a higher quality of healthcare to millions of North Americans through her publications. A self-proclaimed health-food junkie and mother of two; she loves all things nature, is obsessed with organic gardening, growing fruit trees (not easy in Phoenix), laughing until she snorts, and homeschooling. She is a little bit crunchy and yes, that is her real name.

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