The cognitive, affective and physiological impact of infant crying

a comparison of two laboratory methodologies

Emily Bartlett, Catherine McMahon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: The present study investigated two experimental paradigms to explore whether individual differences in adult responses to crying were related to the method of presentation of the crying infant – namely, a video simulation or a life-like programmable doll. Background: The importance of understanding individual differences in caregiver responses to infant crying is well recognised, but assessment of caregiver responses presents considerable methodological challenges. Method: Participants were 106 female childless undergraduate students. Responses assessed included self-report measures of self-efficacy beliefs, feelings of empathy toward the crying infant, caregiver concern and irritation, and heart-rate reactivity. Participants were randomly allocated to exposure to either a life-like crying doll or to a video of a crying infant. Results: Compared to those in the video condition, participants exposed to the crying doll showed lower self-efficacy beliefs, experienced greater feelings of irritation and a greater change in heart-rate responses, p <.05, but no differences in feelings of concern or empathy towards the infant. Conclusion: Findings provide preliminary evidence that the crying doll paradigm may be a more ecologically valid approach to exploring the impact of crying on adults; however, methodological considerations related to individual differences in physiological responses need further clarification in future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)196-209
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2016


  • ecological validity
  • emotions
  • heart-rate
  • infant crying
  • self-efficacy

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