According to a Japanese proverb: “A crying child thrives.” A recent study that examines the complexity of an infant’s cries in relation to his or her language development seems to offer a scientific basis for this folk wisdom.
For babies whose cries exhibited complex melodies by the age of two months, the study, published in the The Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Journal, says the probability of a language delay greatly decreases. Those whose cries were less complex had a greater chance of language delays by two years.
In addition, the study examined the language development in infants with cleft lip and cleft palate. The findings suggest distinguishing characteristics heard in the cries of those infants with a cleft and those without. This research is important because the findings may offer new treatments to help language development for infants with clefts.
The psychology of crying is nothing new. In study after study, scientists have documented the catharsis that only a good cry can bring. For infants, crying is the sole form of communication and there are three distinct types: A “basic cry” is a rhythmic pattern consisting of a cry followed by silence; an “anger cry” is similar to a basic cry but with more volume due to the release of excessive air through the infant’s vocal chords; and a “pain cry” is a loud cry followed by periods of breath holding.
Infants also exhibit what is called a “simple cry melody” – a crying arc consisting of a single rise and then a fall. According to researchers, it is the segmentation of these melodies by momentary pauses and respiratory movement that leads to syllable production.
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