Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The View from Whine Country


A paper published in the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology has shown that listening to whining can make us bad at math.

Yes. Whining is more distracting than a randomly screeching power saw.

Parents already knew this, but it's nice to have data to support our observations.

Researchers set up an experiment in which both men and women, parents and non parents, were asked to solve simple subtractions while being subjected to different sound environments: whining, infant crying, motherese*, neutral speech, machines, and silence.

Whining won.

First off, in a grand exaggeration, the only thing I might find more annoying than whining is terms like "motherese", but I don't have to listen to sociologists and psychologists while I am chopping carrots in my kitchen. Secondly, what a pitch for participation this must have been: “We're going to make you listen to whining while doing math. Sound good? We'll give you an M&M for every problem you get right.”

Unless you are a parent. The parents were given tickets for a raffle of gift cards at a toy store. Brilliant. Parents should have been given drink tokens for a local bar and vouchers for undergraduate babysitters, not the possibility of a whine-filled trip to the toy store to get a whine-encouraging toy. Wrong whine.

Humans use sound to attract attention and get results: infants use crying and two to four-year-olds use whining (and crying, often in a delectable tonal mix). This article states that whining, crying, and motherese "are all part of an attachment vocalization system that exploit[s] an auditory sensitivity shared by humans."

Key word being “exploit.”

Supposedly, we are in the middle of peak whine production, which is between the ages of 2.5 to 4. I hope we are at the pinnacle, and it will be all downhill from here, but I am not going to count on it. This is whine country, and the grapes are sour.

Attachment vocalizations are supposed to "bring the attachment partner nearer." I am assuming this means nearer to the vocalizer and not nearer to insanity, crime, and alcoholism. It's interesting though, and I wonder if mothers get whined at more than fathers. Daddywhumpus has said that "he didn't whine at all while you were gone," when I have returned home to find my boys reading a story, and smaller boy looks up, immediately whining me. It doesn't make me feel better to think that I am the catalyst for the majority of the whining we get in the house, but after all, that is only anecdotal data subject to the interpretation and memory of one adult.

Aside from making me scribble 4 - 2 = “9” or “yellow”, whining brings out the Bad Mommy in me. It has made me want to flip him off more than once and has made me lose the power of intelligible speech numerous times, reducing me to prolonged, one-syllable shrieks of frustration.

Interestingly, they used an adult voice for the whine, instead of a child, because it is difficult to get children to act out extended whining in a controlled environment. It's that “controlled environment” bit that is most important to note, as most parents of a preschooler will tell you that their sonorous little demon is decidedly capable of sustained whining in the chaotic environment of the family home. Still, I think they could have gotten a solid minute out of a little whiner if they had persisted in ignoring its pleas. They will often continue for quite some time under such circumstances.

I have to admit that I stopped paying attention to the article when it began discussing results in terms of calculations and variables. I did not even need whining to distract me. I did notice that they used the term “acoustically designed” regarding attachment vocalizations, which I think is inappropriate, especially considering the journal in which the article appears. Certainly, “evolved” would be a better term.

And when it comes to results, do the results that children receive reinforce the effectiveness of whining and encourage the behavior? If any response is the correct one, which is often the case with children, then probably yes. It certainly gets responses; it’s very hard to ignore. Whether or not it brings the attachment object closer in proximity to the whiner is arguable.

It makes me want to leave the planet.

* “motherese is the child-directed speech parents use towards young children to sooth (sic), attract attention, encourage particular behaviors, and prohibit the child from dangerous acts.” It is also one of the most annoying terms I have heard in a long time, and something that probably warrants its own post. If this is what I think it is, it’s something we have actively tried to avoid doing to our child.

1 comment:

mostcurious said...

Nothing but empathy. Whining is the most annoying thing ever. I can't imagine being asked to participate in that study.