Infant and Toddler Crying and Irritability: Cultural Meanings and Responses

  • J. Martin Maldonado-DuranEmail author
  • Felipe Lecannelier


The first ex utero human action is, in most cases, crying—an ethological behavioral response preserved through species, beyond purely mammalian. A response often invoked as a visible sign of life, crying behavior will accompany the newborn through life and represent different meanings and emotions as the individual ages and develops. Beyond the “proof of life,” crying and irritability pose and lead to intense experiences in caregivers that affect neuroendocrine responses. Such reactions are also modulated by the sociocultural circumstances within which the child and caregiver reside. The culture of the caregiver impacts the perception of the crying. These factors also influence the way the infant is attended to and the subsequent responses from his or her growing mind. The caregiver responses vary enormously, in a spectrum that goes from sensitivity to hostility, from benign to malignant. With persistent or excessive crying there is a risk of harming the child. This chapter explores the ethological, neurobiological, and behavioral aspects of infant crying and irritability and provides examples of its modulation within different cultural and social circumstances, including how these affect the perception and interpretation of this otherwise vital action.


Crying Irritability Evolutionary psychology Colic Gripe water; Soothing Swaddling Infant carrying Soothing responses Acoustics of crying Shaken baby syndrome 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Martin Maldonado-Duran
    • 1
    Email author
  • Felipe Lecannelier
    • 2
  1. 1.Menninger Department of PsychiatryBaylor College of MedicineHoustonUSA
  2. 2.Facultad de Ciencias MedicasUniversidad de Santiago de ChileSantiagoChile

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