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Why crying babies are so hard for us to ignore

CRYING babies are almost impossible to ignore because our brains instantly react to the sound of infants in distress, a study has revealed.

Even if we have no children of our own, hearing a baby's scream provokes a sudden surge of emotion much stronger than that caused by a crying adult.

The findings could explain why the sound of a wailing infant is enough to prevent us falling asleep on a train or an aeroplane. Our brains most likely developed an acute response to the noise to allow us to react faster and more sensitively to our babies' needs.

The scientists, from Oxford University, scanned the brains of 30 childless people while they listened to recordings of babies and adults crying and various animal distress noises.

Their results revealed that when the baby sounds were being played, participants had significantly higher activity levels in two regions of the brain linked to the processing of emotions.

Katie Young, one of the researchers, said the scans revealed that participants' brains responded equally quickly to all of the noises, but only processed significant amounts of emotion in the case of babies. She said: "The sound of a baby crying is something that really captures your attention in a way that few other sounds in the environment generally do."