A National Institutes of Health study in mice suggests that parents have an innate capacity to respond to an infant’s cries for help and this capacity may serve as a foundation from which a parent learns to adjust to an infant’s changing needs. The study was conducted by Robert C. Froemke, Ph.D., of New York University School of Medicine, and colleagues. It appears in Nature.
When housed with mice who have given birth, unmated female mice will assist with the care of the newborn pups. The researchers evaluated the ability of such babysitter mice to respond to a variety of recorded newborn distress cries. These included typical distress cries as well as a range of cries that had been digitally altered — sped up or slowed down to include more or fewer syllables than typical distress vocalizations.
Experienced babysitters responded to typical distress cries 80% of the time, compared