Figuring out what exactly is wrong with a crying baby can be a frustrating experience for parents and doctors. Is the cry from pain, hunger or something worse? In a rather interesting development announced this week, an automated software and sensor system developed at Brown University may begin to unlock some clues.
Brown researchers, in conjunction with Women & Infants Hospital say they have developed a tool that analyzes the cries of babies, searching for clues to potential health or developmental problems. Slight variations in cries, mostly imperceptible to the human ear, can be a "window into the brain" that could allow for early intervention, the researchers stated.
From the researchers: "Utilizing known algorithms, we developed a method to extract acoustic parameters describing infant cries from standard digital audio files . The system operates in two phases. During the first phase, the analyzer separates recorded cries into 12.5-millisecond frames. Each frame is analyzed for several parameters, including frequency characteristics, voicing, and acoustic volume. The second phase uses data from the first to give a broader view of the cry and reduces the number of parameters to those that are most useful. The frames are put back together and characterized either as an utterance - a single "wah" - or silence, the pause between utterances. Longer utterances are separated from shorter ones and the time between utterances is recorded. Pitch, including the contour of pitch over time, and other variables can then be averaged across each utterance. In the end, the system evaluates for 80 different parameters, each of which could hold clues about a baby's health.."
"There are lots of conditions that might manifest in differences in cry acoustics," said Stephen Sheinkopf, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown, who helped develop the new tool in a statement. "For instance, babies with birth trauma or brain injury as a result of complications in pregnancy or birth or babies who are extremely premature can have ongoing medical effects. Cry analysis can be a noninvasive way to get a measurement of these disruptions in the neurobiological and neurobehavioral systems in very young babies."
The automated analyzer lets researchers evaluate cries much more quickly and in much greater detail. The Brown team plans to make it available to researchers around the world in the hopes of developing new avenues of cry research.
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