Have you ever got the suspicion that some of your baby’s crying bouts are merely attention-seeking behaviour, otherwise described as ‘fake crying’? It might be that your baby’s crying is not only a method of survival, but also an important means of communication with you – even in matters of the heart.
Defining ‘fake crying’
A study supports this notion. As it turns out, babies do, in fact, ‘fake cry’. Fake crying could be defined as crying that comes out of nowhere, one moment your baby is perfectly fine and all smiles, and the very next moment, usually when you turn away, starts crying. Only to suddenly stop when they receive attention and are all smiles and satisfied again.
Deception from an innocent baby?
Some might view this as deception or manipulation on baby’s part. But is this really deception? Is this not also a means of baby communicating that she is in need of attention – one of the key developmental factors and basic needs of a child? Why should only material aspects like the change of a diaper or the feeding of an empty stomach warrant communication?
How did they do the study?
The article ‘Changes in the affect of infants before and after episodes of crying’ by Hiroko Nakayama, published in PubMed, Infant Behaviour and Development, December 2013, studied the affect of infants just before they start crying and then again just after they’ve stopped crying.
Nakayama, a researcher at the University of the Sacred Heart, Tokyo, studied two infants, analysing 102 crying episodes over six months, filming them for one hour twice a month. Sixty-eight crying episodes were documented for the seven-month-old baby, and 34 episodes for the nine-month-old baby.
In the majority of crying episodes, the babies showed negative emotions before they started crying, and then also showed these emotions soon after they stopped crying. The nine-month-old infant always showed negative emotions in the moments leading up to a crying episode, with contorted facial expressions, vocalisations and down-turned lips.
But then there where instances (about 2% of the seven-month-old baby’s crying episodes) where positive emotions were present before the onset of the crying, and then also shortly after the crying stopped. It was these instances that mothers identified as ‘fake crying’ or ‘emergence of fake crying’.
In one instance, when the initially seven-month-old baby reached 11 months, the baby’s crying was preceded by positive emotions by way of smiling or laughing, and then positive emotions quickly returned after the crying fit. Nakayama observed that the seven-month-old “appeared to cry deliberately to get her mother’s attention… she showed a smile immediately after the mother came closer.”
Study findings: effective communication
The study found that infants who are capable of fake crying might communicate successfully with their caregivers on a daily basis. Nakayama is of meaning that fake crying attracts the attention of the baby’s caregiver and that this interaction contributes greatly to baby’s social and emotional development. “Fake crying could add much to their relationships,” she notes.
The study also found that in the instances where the babies exerted negative emotions prior to a crying bout, the negative emotions dissipated with physical or eye contact (in the case of the seven-month-old) from the caregiver.
Possible reasons for the differences in the babies’ reactions
It is suspected that the seven-month-old baby used fake crying as a means of getting the attention of her caregiver, because she had to compete with another sibling for attention, whereas the nine-month-old baby did not have any siblings. Nakayama is of meaning that “siblings can enrich social interactions at home and increase their variety. Such environmental factors are known to stimulate the development of communication skills of infants.”