Babies React to Age-Old Danger Sounds

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baby earThe sounds of a hissing snake or the crackle of a forest fire are enough to give any smart adult a fright. And parents everywhere know the importance of teaching their children the sounds of nearby peril. A new study shows that babies only months old are already paying attention to these types of audible danger signals.

In fact, the body’s response to frightening sounds has evolved over thousands of years. Perhaps that’s why the babies responded so strongly to ancient danger sounds like fighting adults, thunder, hissing snakes and the crackling and pops of a fire. The babies in the study didn’t pay nearly as much attention to pleasant sounds, such as laughing children or classical music, though they did hear and acknowledge them. Interestingly, they also didn’t put as much interest into more modern threatening sounds, like fire sirens, car alarms or breaking glass, suggesting that humans are still in the process of developing these audible danger signal reactions.

Unlike sight or taste, healthy babies are born with their sense of hearing intact. Their other senses don’t fully mature and develop until after birth, suggesting that babies develop this attention to warning sounds in utero.

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