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20 February 2013
Fear? Anger? Pain? Scientists decode babies' crying styles

It isn't always easy to know why a newborn cries, especially for first-time parents. Although the main reasons are hunger, pain, anger and fear, many parents cannot easily recognise which is the cause of the tears. Now, Spanish researchers working with parents and babies have identified how eye movements and the dynamic of the cry play a key role for parents trying to decode the cry.

Mariano Chóliz, a researcher at the University of Valencia, examined the weeping patterns of 20 babies aged between 3 and 18 months, specifically at the three characteristic emotions: fear, anger and pain. In addition, Chóliz's team observed the accuracy of adults in recognising the emotion that causes the babies to cry.

According to the results, published in the Spanish Journal of Psychology, the main differences are in eye activity and the dynamics of the cry.

When angry, the majority of babies keep their eyes half-closed, either looking in apparently no direction or in a fixed manner. Additionally, their mouth is either open or half-open and the intensity of their cry increases progressively.

In the case of fear, Chóliz says the eyes remain open almost all the time. Furthermore, the infants can have a penetrating look and move their head backwards. Their cry can be explosive after a gradual increase in tension.

Lastly, pain manifests as closed eyes, or eyes that do open only for a few moments with a distant look. There is a high level of tension in the eye area and the forehead is frowned. The cry begins at maximum intensity, starting suddenly and immediately after the stimulus.

"When babies cry because of anger or fear, they keep their eyes open, but keep them closed when crying in pain," Chóliz summarized. As for the dynamic of the cry, both the gestures and the intensity of the cry gradually increase if the baby is angry. On the other hand, the cry is as intense as can be in the case of pain and fear.

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Source: Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology

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