Acoustic characteristics of naturally occurring cries of infants with "colic"

Child Dev. 1997 Jun;68(3):394-403.


Although infantile colic has long been defined by a perceived excessive amount of crying, acoustic attributes of the cry sound may also contribute to perceptions that this early social behavior is excessive or problematic. From an original sample of 76 infants (38 infants referred to physicians for problematic crying, or "colic," and 38 pair-matched comparison infants), 48 infants who produced naturally occurring cry bouts both before and after an evening feeding were studied: 11 infants with Wessel's colic, 15 infants with non-Wessel's colic, and 22 comparison infants. Standard and vociferous cry segments were selected from up to 2 min of tape-recorded crying for spectrum analysis. Vociferous cry segments had a longer duration, a higher fundamental frequency, and a greater percentage of dysphonation than did standard segments. No differences between infant groups were found in cries before feeding. After feeding, infants who were problematic criers, independent of Wessel's criteria, showed a greater percentage of dysphonation in the vociferous cry segment than did comparison infants. This finding resulted from a decrease in dysphonation in the cries of comparison infants after feeding and an increase in those of infants with non-Wessel's colic. The dominant frequency also increased after feeding in the vociferous cries of infants with Wessel's colic, resulting in these infants having higher-pitched cries after feeding than infants in the other 2 groups. Results indicate that infants who are perceived to have problematic crying have objectively different acoustic features in their cry sounds that are particularly aversive, and that complaints about excessive crying cannot be accounted for simply on the basis of reporting bias in overly concerned or emotionally labile parents.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Birth Weight
  • Colic / psychology*
  • Crying*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Speech Acoustics*