Sex stereotypes influence adults’ perception of babies’ cries

David Reby, Florence Levréro, Erik Gustafsson, Nicolas Mathevon

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Despite widespread evidence that gender stereotypes influence human parental behavior, their potential effects on adults’ perception of babies’ cries have been overlooked. In particular, whether adult listeners overgeneralize the sex dimorphism that characterizes the voice of adult speakers (men are lower-pitched than women) to their perception of babies’ cries has not been investigated.

We used playback experiments combining natural and re-synthesised cries of 3 month-old babies to investigate whether the interindividual variation in the fundamental frequency (pitch) of cries affected adult listeners’ identification of the baby’s sex, their perception the baby’s femininity and masculinity, and whether these biases interacted with their perception of the level of discomfort expressed by the cry.

We show that low-pitched cries are more likely to be attributed to boys and high-pitched cries to girls, despite the absence of sex differences in pitch. Moreover, low-pitched boys are perceived as more masculine and high-pitched girls are perceived as more feminine. Finally, adult men rate relatively low-pitched cries as expressing more discomfort when presented as belonging to boys than to girls.

Such biases in caregivers’ responses to babies’ cries may have implications on children’s immediate welfare and on the development of their gender identity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number19
JournalBMC Psychology
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 14 Apr 2016
Externally publishedYes


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