Babies perk up to sounds of ancient hazards

A snake's hiss and angry voices quickly capture infants' attention

By Bruce Bower, 14:55 PM September 20, 2013

Babies have an ear for primeval dangers, a new study suggests.

By age 9 months, infants pay special attention to sounds that have signaled threats to children’s safety and survival throughout human evolution, say psychologist Nicole Erlich of the University of Queensland, Australia, and her colleagues. Those sounds include a snake hissing, adults’ angry voices, a crackling fire, thunder claps and — as a possible indicator of a nearby but unseen danger — another infant’s cries.

Noises denoting ...

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