Scientists discovered that the cry of a baby does not just attract attention, but it also affects cognitive functions in parents’ brains.
It had long been implied that parental instinct can be evidenced in some biological features of parents, but until now no one believed that it could influence cognition.
The University of Toronto made a study on how adults would perform on cognitive tasks when they were presented with audio clips of crying babies or laughing ones. The cognitive test that was used is the Stroop task. The participants had to identify the color of a printed word no matter what the word said.
After a short audio clip of vocalization, the subjects had to perform a sequence of the Stroop task, and afterwards, the researchers measured brain activity.
The results showed that the child cries had an adverse effect on test performances. The crying sound brought troubles on focusing attention and conflicts in cognitive processing.
“It’s this cognitive flexibility that allows parents to switch rapidly between responding to their baby’s distress and other competing demands in their lives – which, paradoxically, may mean ignoring the infant momentarily,” said Joanna Dudek, the leading author of the study.
The experiment is thought to bring significant data on parent’s decision-making processes and their attention span. It is a well-known fact that adults have to take numerous decisions while taking care of the baby’s needs. Their attention must focus both on the child and on the surroundings.
The authors think that by activating a cognitive conflict in the brain, the cry of a child may be in fact teaching parents how to make a better selection of the stimuli when focusing attention.
Processing a cognitive conflict may help parents better distinguish the importance of various things happening around them at the same time. These may be requests from the baby, household tasks or unexpected events like receiving a call or having to rearrange day’s agenda.
The fact that the child has such a significant influence on an adult’s brain functioning is supported by other studies that looked into how adults respond to infants. The main finding of these studies is that children have a privileged place the neurobiological programming of humans.
High brain activity triggered by a child’s cry is, therefore, to be considered an evolutionary feature programmed into all of the humans.
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