In the News

Psychology In The News | Cry Baby

Rosey Gardiner-Earl

10th June 2024

New research has cast doubt on the idea that the reason for a baby's cry can be determined just from the sound. Recently published research found that neither artificial intelligence algorithms nor people trained in identifying baby cries could accurately pinpoint the cause - hunger, discomfort, or isolation - based solely on the acoustic properties of the cries.

The study analysed a large dataset of nearly 40,000 crying sequences recorded from 24 babies of different ages up to 3.5 months old. Parents noted whenever their baby cried and the suspected reason, as well as what action soothed the crying (e.g. being fed, or changed), allowing the researchers to infer the actual cause.

When the acoustic data was used to train an AI system to predict the reason for crying, its performance was no better than chance. Similarly, adult participants listened to cry samples but could not accurately identify the cause, despite some receiving training with feedback.

Interestingly, the parents' guesses about why their babies were crying were correct around 75% of the time. However, this likely stemmed from contextual knowledge like feeding/changing times rather than detecting meaning in the cries themselves.

The findings challenge claims that baby cries are a "language" that can be decoded as well as apps promising to "translate" cries. While limited to younger babies, the study suggests cries may have evolved to signal a baby's identity more clearly than the specific reason for distress.

So, the next time someone insists they can tell exactly why a baby is crying just from the sound, you can politely inform them that the research shows otherwise. A caregiver's intuition based on context is more reliable than acoustic analysis alone.


  1. The behaviour of crying would be described by Bowlby as a ‘social releaser’. What does this mean?
  2. Outline one strength of the research methodology used to investigate the baby’s cries.
  3. Outline one weakness of the research methodology used to investigate the baby’s cries.
  4. Why would a baby having a distinct cry (a “cry identity”) be an evolutionary advantage?
  5. Explain how learning theory views the role of crying in the development of attachment.

Reference: (accessed 16.5.24)

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Rosey Gardiner-Earl

Rosey has 15 years of experience teaching Psychology and has worked as both a Subject and Senior Leader in school and large sixth form setting. Rosey is also an experienced A level Psychology examiner.

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