Who Responds to Crying?

Human Nature 21 (3):309-329 (2010)
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!Kung San (Bushman) hunter-gatherers have unusually high levels of mother-infant contact and represent one of the environments of human evolutionary adaptedness (EEAs). Studies among the !Kung show that levels of crying—the most basic sign of mammalian infant distress—are low, and response to crying is high, and some suggest that responses are overwhelmingly maternal. We show that although !Kung mothers respond to crying most often, one-third of crying bouts are managed solely by someone else. Mothers responded to all bouts lasting ≥30 s, but in half of these responses they were joined by one or more others. Mothers are the most consistent responders, but multiple caregiving is common. The mother is rarely alone when her baby cries; others often substitute or join her in interventions. This social support may facilitate the high levels of maternal responsiveness characteristic of the !Kung, and of hunter-gatherers generally, but it is also consistent with recent theory emphasizing nonmaternal care (allocare) and cooperative breeding



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