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Optimal Noises of Frustration: An fMRI Study

Bunny, Bun Bun1 and Bunny, Bunlet2

1. Department of Whining and Screeching, BunBunnery College. 2. Department of Poking and Wiggling, University of the Uterus.

Previous research (Bunny, 2011) has shown that a wide range of distress cries is equally effective in evoking caregiver response. However, little is known about Noises of Frustration (NOF, noises which signal frustration as opposed to true distress). Many babies report that their NOF are ineffective, but there are multiple potential causes of this problem, including caregiver habituation, inconsistent use on the part of the baby, or the quality of the NOF itself. This study explores the last possibility, by comparing caregiver neurological responses to a variety of NOF and non-NOF sounds. In study 1, 43 primary caregivers of young infants were exposed to three kinds of auditory stimuli using a block design functional magnetic resonance imaging paradigm: Non-infant annoying noises (e.g., clown noses squeaking, audio sounds from the Laugh & Learn™ Dance & Play Puppy), NOF recorded from a variety of infants, and white noise (baseline condition). We found that activity in the left amygdala, right anterior cingulate cortex, and medial prefrontal cortex (areas of the brain associated with anger) was significantly higher in the non-infant condition relative to baseline, while activity in those areas as well as the right and left insula (areas of the brain associated with disgust) was significantly higher in the NOF condition relative to both baseline and non-infant condition. These results suggest NOF are neurologically distinct from other annoying sounds, and that they evoke a pattern of brain behavior associated with anger and disgust. In study 2, we compared a variety of NOF to determine which most effectively evoke the pattern of activation seen in study 1. A new group of 36 primary caregivers was exposed to NOF varying according to loudness, fundamental frequency (pitch), and duration, again using a block design fMRI study. Participants were also asked to push a button for those sounds that they would respond to. We found that NOF of at least 90 db and with a rising-falling-rising pitch in the range of 1000 Hz and lasting at least 5 seconds elicited the strongest neural response. Participants were also significantly more likely to indicate that they would respond to NOF with these qualities. Our results suggest that primary caregivers are differentially sensitive to NOF, and that babies may be able to maximize their chances of achieving parental response by using those NOF with the qualities above. However, further research is needed to determine the nature of parental response these NOF are best at evoking.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oh my goodness – this is great! Let us know what kind of parental response you get in the next study… 🙂

    June 28, 2012
  2. This is awesome 🙂

    June 28, 2012
  3. Trinity #

    I’ve been trying to teach Arlo the word “help” in order to better prioritize my own responses to his NOF. Because he screams like he’s caught in a bear trap when the matter simply is that he’s dropped a toy in a place his little hand can’t reach. Good LAWD. Varied degrees of success.

    June 28, 2012
  4. *snort* Makes me realise just how bad I am at responding to NOF (though I’ve got better since she went through the piercing shriek stage of getting my attention).

    June 29, 2012
  5. Thank you for pre-printing this fascinating study, which ties in neatly to data I’ve been collecting on a subspecies of the NOF, which we call “LGF” (low-grade fussing). These are the sounds of vague irritation emited by an infant or toddler who hasn’t yet decided that s/he is actually frustrated, but yet still feels the need to fuss about something indeterminate. Our experimental data so far shows that generally LGF does not require any parental intervention and will either resolve itself or escalte into full-scale NOF.

    June 29, 2012
  6. Wow, your kids are geniuses. And now, they can let the whole infant and fetus world know about this very important piece of research – or, you know, wait until Todays’ Parents picks it up and distorts it.
    On an unrelated note, what is the admission criteria for the University of the Uterus. I’ve got embryos who would like to attend.

    June 29, 2012
    • change that to Today’s Infant

      June 29, 2012
    • Not to worry–several spots are being held for your embryos, who will be offered full financial aid. Application is just a formality.

      June 29, 2012
  7. Oh God. A rising-falling-rising pitch. My goose is cooked.

    (This had me snort-laughing).

    June 29, 2012
  8. Oh Bunny… You’re a treasure xxx

    June 30, 2012
  9. Ana #

    Hilarious (and much more interesting & relevant than the paper I am currently revising). You’ve got a gift Bunny. Keep ’em coming!

    July 3, 2012
  10. Very interesting my science friend…I’ve noticed that Bee uses different NOF with me as opposed to his Dad who works outside of the home all day. He gets a faster response from him with his beefed up NOF than he does with me. I think he’s secretly laughing inside when his Dad rushes to his side over the “I’m bored” NOF. I’m shifting gears with him since he will no longer be the center of the universe, but will have to share it, thus making him wait a tad. It’s actually doing both of us some good.

    Egghunt couldn’t have said it better….you are a treasure!!!

    Plus, I’m very proud of you for the very practical use of your education.

    July 3, 2012

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