Why babies cry

This is a really silly idea, but I like it. Just got back from a couple of nights in Edinburgh, where amongst other things, we had supper with Louise-who-comments-here and the talked moved naturally to witchcraft trials. They hardly tortured anyone, said Louise: all they needed for confession was sleep deprivation and humiliation — shave all the hair from their bodies and deprive them of sleep and people will confess to anything.

This got me thinking about very small babies, and the programme of sleep deprivation they put their parents through. This seems an incredibly risky thing to do, from the baby’s point of view — who hasn’t felt tempted to hurl a crying baby out of the window or dash it against a wall at four in the morning? But perhaps there is a payoff for those babies who are not killed by their parents (these are of course the once who leave descendants): all that sleep deprivation tends to reorient the parents towards their new baby as thoroughly as the KGB could ever have managed it. It’s a Stockholm syndrome.

No doubt some grouchy anti-adaptationist will be along any moment to point out that babies need to feed every three hours for entirely different reasons. But I don’t think there are any other animal species where the babies keep their parents awake in the way that human babies can. Does anyone know better?

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2 Responses to Why babies cry

  1. David Weman says:

    I think most mammals have the kind of sleep patterns wehere it’s not really an issue.

  2. meehawl says:

    It’s a selection process to drive the emergence and spread of altruism in the species. Selfish parents get fed up with their babies’ crying and kill and eat them, thus lowering their reproductive success. This is why humans are one of the least aggressive primate species – we have been selected by our infants for high sociality.

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