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Psychologist Nick Thompson and his students study how human behaviors--like the sounds babies make--have been selected over time to support individual survival.

Infant cries as evolutionary melodrama

Thompson, N.S., Brian Dessureau, and Carolyn Olson. "Infant cries as evolutionary melodrama: extortion or deception?" Evolution of Communication, 2(1): 25-43.


Crying is melodramatic in the sense that crying babies seem to respond to a great variety of distressing situations with behaviors, such as gasping, choking, and panting that would be appropriate to a very specific respiratory emergency. In this paper we develop models to explore whether extortion or deception is the more plausible origin of the melodrama in a baby's cry. According to these models, deception seems a more plausible origin than extortion because extortion requires the inchoherent assumption that nature can select against the genetic interests of an organism. By comparison, the assumptions required to rationalize a deception explanation--that the parent share in the benefits given to its offstpring--seem relatively harmless and consistent with contemporary sociobiological theory.


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