Evolution of the Cry

So I’ve been looking for information on babies’ cries, what they mean, how to tell them apart, and whether or not these “translations” are legitimate. The legitimacy question is up for some debate; the “study” most everyone who talks about this subject refers to Dunstan Baby Language, a theory stating that there are five cries which can tell us what the baby needs. This hasn’t been scientifically verified, however. An overwhelming majority of online articles about this subject are for it, even if the author hasn’t seen it in practice and hasn’t dug deeper for a more scientific study than an opera singer’s “photographic ear”.

While looking into this theory, I came across some theories on why we cry at all, both as adults and as babies. There are multiple schools of thought, from crying being used to generate empathy to plain old begging for attention as a means of survival. Some scientists even think babies cry more at night to prevent their parents from bringing siblings (read: competition) into the world. I also learned that the frequency of their cries and screams are likely evolved to make sure that their parents hear them. This is why it’s almost impossible to block out – or not be annoyed by – a baby’s cry.

I don’t really get it, I guess. Shrieking at a high frequency seems like the opposite of a survival tactic; it may let a mother know she needs to feed, but it also lets every carnivore around know that there is a screaming Hot Pocket in that cave over there. I would think silence would be a better option. 

If you really think about it, a baby’s cry back in the day (read: way, way back) would have been a signal to other animals that there was a small, weak primate youngling just begging to be devoured. The translation would have been something like “Attention predators and beasts of the plains and jungles! I am a human baby, naked and basically blind, screaming for food from my mother as I haven’t yet developed the wherewithal, let alone strength and coordination to feed myself. Yes, that’s right, I’m quite weak. I should also note that I have no teeth or claws with which to defend myself. Weapons? Fire? Forget it. My mother is exhausted from tending to me, so I imagine her alertness is pretty much gone. I wouldn’t make a large meal, but my bones are basically cartilage, so you should be able to gobble me up whole. If this piercing shriek in the night isn’t enough to find me, you should be able to find me by my scent, which is a mix of dried milk and surprisingly pungent poop. I’ll see you in a bit.” 

The end.


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