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Distress vocalizations are fundamental for survival, and both sonic and ultrasonic components of such vocalizations are preserved phylogenetically among many mammals. On this basis, we hypothesized that ultrasonic inaudible components of the acoustic signal might play a heretofore hidden role in humans as well. By investigating the human distress vocalization (infant cry), here we show that, similar to other species, the human infant cry contains ultrasonic components that modulate haemodynamic responses in mothers, without the mother being consciously aware of those modulations. In two studies, we measured the haemodynamic activity in the breasts of mothers while they were exposed to the ultrasonic components of infant cries. Although mothers were not aware of ultrasounds, the presence of the ultrasounds in combination with the audible components increased oxygenated haemoglobin concentration in the mothers' breast region. This modulation was observed only when the body surface was exposed to the ultrasonic components. These findings provide the first evidence indicating that the ultrasonic components of the acoustic signal play a role in human mother-infant interaction.
PMID: 31786800 [PubMed - in process]