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Whine Connoisseurs

Whine Connoisseurs
Whining may be even more attention-grabbing than a loud table saw. But there may be an evolutionary reason for those annoying tones.

By: Lauren Aaronson / PSYCHOLOGY TODAY

A whiny kid attracts a lot of attention, as any exhausted parent will tell you. But there may be an evolutionary reason for annoying tones.

Clark University doctoral candidate Rosemarie Sokol discovered that whines sound similar to the speech parents use with their children. Both whines and "motherese" are high, slow and varied in pitch. Yet motherese is considered an important part of the developing relationship between parent and child, while whining is considered a bad habit.

Sokol speculates that whining serves the same purpose as motherese. A slow, melodic voice helps a speaker attract the attention of a person who's important to her, whether that person is an infant or a parent. When someone secures the attention of an important person, says Sokol, she strengthens the attachment between them.

Sokol's preliminary experiment shows that whines are even more attention-grabbing than a loud table saw. Test-takers completed fewer questions when whines played in the background than when they heard the saw or other kinds of speech.

Studies suggest that men are more distracted by whines than women are, but women are more distracted by infant cries. Sokol thinks these differences evolved because women were usually the early caregivers, while men became more involved as a child matured.

Both sexes are susceptible to motherese, and perhaps to romantic "sweet talk." Sokol says that it has the same acoustic patterns as whining and motherese, and, at least in the best cases, it serves a similar attachment-creating function.

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