In infantology news, a sixty-year study has conclusively proven that scientists don’t know why your baby is crying either.
The research, conducted by generations of Finnish and Swedish scientists, provided some of the most convincing evidence to date that babies are very secretive about their crying. Parents have long suspected that infants withhold information regarding the cause of their emotional outbursts out of revenge for being evicted from the goo-filled sacs in which they lived for nine months. The reason that hunger cries and boredom cries sound alike is that hunger is boring, and being bored makes babies want to eat.
The Amazing Lester, chairman of the Department of Cryological Sciences at the University of Sweden in Finland (USF), described some of their findings. “One thing we did determine is that there is a genetic component. We documented crying behavior in 82% of mothers when we told them that we were taking their babies to Finland and/or Sweden to experiment on them. In each case, the baby later exhibited distinct crying behavior on one or more occasions.”
The multi-decade project used a variety of methodologies to attempt to analyze crying. In one experiment, two babies, one male and one female, were paired up for a period of 3-6 months. At the end, the two infants were separated, and one or the other was randomly left a message on their answering machine saying that the other one needed space, and that “it’s not you, it’s me.” When the rejected baby began to cry, he or she was given a pint of double fudge ripple ice cream. In almost every instance, the subject smeared the ice cream on his/her face, clothing, and immediate surroundings. Results are still being tabulated.
In early work, researchers created spectrograms of the cries, visual readouts showing the sounds’ rise and fall. After decades of analysis, cry experts are now able to detect that a baby is crying simply by looking at it.
One mad scientist on the project, who goes by the code name “Lester”, worked for two years on a tool that extracts information from digital recordings of crying. The technology, which converts crying into sound, will be distributed to anyone who wants to learn what babies sound like when they cry. The researchers hope that the analyzer, when used by lots of researchers, will generate the necessary fame and income to get a recording contract.
Like most research, the results of cry analysis are vulnerable to tampering, both intentional and inadvertent. One scientist, who requested anonymity after he was told that “cryonics” had nothing to do with babies, stopped for an interview as he was lugging a large freezer into the parking lot. He suspects some of the results have been tainted. “I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure someone keeps swapping out the old babies for new ones. I remember we had one baby, a boy with red hair, back in 1984, but for the life of me, I can’t find him this week.”
Lester, a janitor from the Little Helsinki section of Stockholm, mentioned that even some of the long-term participants in the study sometimes yielded contradictory results. “There was one subject, Bøbby (pictured above), who came into the program in November 1958, and produced some truly impressive weeping. Today he’s 660 months old, and speaks fluent Finswedish, but even when we show him the films to jog his memory, he still claims he can’t remember why he was crying on January 13, 1959.”
Many currently available devices will not tell you why the baby is crying, from simple machines like pulleys and levers, to complex machines like microwave ovens and Priuses. But with the aid of Finno-Swedish research such as this, it may be possible to create the first portable device specifically designed to not tell you why the baby is crying.
The Amazing Lester explained why currently available cry analysis tools are ineffective. “They are, in a word: garbage. The most common models available on Amazon use a combination of old coffee grounds and shredded junk mail to determine why the baby is crying. Even the top-of-the-line models base their predictive algorithms on spoiled peaches and some green stuff with fur.” (Disclaimer: possibly also spoiled peaches, but we’re not sure) To date, none of the companies that have approached the Amazing Lester have provided the right balance of takeout containers and banana peels to earn his seal of approval.
New avenues of research continue to be explored. In one building on the USF campus, a group of infants is constantly subjected to tax audits alternated with showings of Old Yeller, to see which one provokes more tears. In another lab, a gaggle of babies have their diapers changed every five minutes to measure the relationship between changing and crying. One pod of toddlers learned to cry at the drop of a hat through constant exposure to a mechanical hat-dropper. “No matter what it takes,” said a Lester, “we’ll give these babies something to cry about.”
(Click on the moody infant to read the original story.)