It's Not Your Imagination: Whining Really Is the Worst Sound in the World

Family Matters on 06.21.11


The world is full of frustrating noises -- table saws, adult baby talk, crying infants -- but the one that's more annoying than any other, reports MSNBC, is also a part of daily life for every parent: Whining.

New research published in the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology compared subjects' ability to perform subtraction problems when the above noises (or silence) played in the background. Even subjects who weren't parents completed fewer problems -- and got fewer correct -- when listening to whining than when hearing any of the other sounds.

Study author Rosemarie Sokol Chang, a psychology professor at SUNY New Paltz, summed it up this way: "You’re basically doing less work and doing it worse when you’re listening to the whines. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, everybody’s equally distracted.”

However, Chang suggests that the power of whining may be an evolutionary advantage that helps kids attract their parents in moments of danger. “It’s telling you to tune in,” says Chang. “Nobody wants to sit around and listen to a fire engine siren either, but if you hear the siren go off, it gets your attention. It has to be annoying like that, and it’s the same with the whine.”

How do you deal with whining?

More from MSNBC

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