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Assessment of infant cry: acoustic cry analysis and parental perception.

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Department of Pediatrics, Brown Medical School, Infant Development Center, Women and Infants Hospital, Providence, Rhode Island 02903, USA.


Infant crying signals distress to potential caretakers who can alleviate the aversive conditions that gave rise to the cry. The cry signal results from coordination among several brain regions that control respiration and vocal cord vibration from which the cry sounds are produced. Previous work has shown a relationship between acoustic characteristics of the cry and diagnoses related to neurological damage, SIDS, prematurity, medical conditions, and substance exposure during pregnancy. Thus, assessment of infant cry provides a window into the neurological and medical status of the infant. Assessment of infant cry is brief and noninvasive and requires recording equipment and a standardized stimulus to elicit a pain cry. The typical protocol involves 30 seconds of crying from a single application of the stimulus. The recorded cry is submitted to an automated computer analysis system that digitizes the cry and either presents a digital spectrogram of the cry or calculates measures of cry characteristics. The most common interpretation of cry measures is based on deviations from typical cry characteristics. Another approach evaluates the pattern across cry characteristics suggesting arousal or under-arousal or difficult temperament. Infants with abnormal cries should be referred for a full neurological evaluation. The second function of crying--to elicit caretaking--involves parent perception of the infant's needs. Typically, parents are sensitive to deviations in cry characteristics, but their perception can be altered by factors in themselves (e.g., depression) or in the context (e.g., culture). The potential for cry assessment is largely untapped. Infant crying and parental response is the first language of the new dyadic relationship. Deviations in the signal and/or misunderstanding the message can compromise infant care, parental effectiveness, and undermine the budding relationship.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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