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The research of scientists across the world, including Professor Morten Kringelbach, from the University of Oxford's Department of Psychiatry, show how a baby's cry is neurologically and primally intertwined with breathing, and that adult brains are wired to react with the greatest urgency.

Baby wailing

'Scientists have discovered that the small cluster of brain cells in charge of fast, active respiration also grant a baby animal the power to cry.'

Article published in The New York Times, 4 September, 2017, by Natalie Angier.

Read extract here:

"Studying both superfast brain scans of healthy volunteers and direct electrode measurements in adult patients who were undergoing neurosurgery for other reasons, Dr. Young, with Christine E. Parsons of Aarhus University in Denmark, Morten L. Kringelbach of Oxford University and other colleagues, has tracked the brain’s response to the sound of an infant cry.

"The researchers found that within 49 thousandths of a second of a recorded cry being played, the periaqueductal gray — an area deep in the midbrain that has long been linked to urgent, do-or-die behaviors — had blazed to attention, twice as fast as it reacted to dozens of other audio clips tested.

"The investigators also detected rapid firing in brain regions that check a stimulus for its emotional salience and in motor areas that control movement. Is this sound important? Yes. Should I do something about it? Absolutely.

"This spur to caretaking action — this antsy, subliminal desire to solve the dilemma presented by the wailing infant — could explain why a crying infant on an airplane is especially distressing. Passengers want to help; they can’t, and they can’t even run away."

 

Read the full article  in The NY Times: 'A baby wails, and the adult world comes running'

Read more about Professor Morten Kringelbach