The superlative science journalist Carl Zimmer has an article in the New York Times about the evolution of colic. It's an interesting read. (Get it while it's hot; the NYT's links fade after a week.) But Zimmer also has a blog, where he goes much more in depth about the sources he used to write the article. And you know, I'm all about depth. One source Zimmer didn't use in the NYT article, but describes on his blog, was a recent paper by Hillary Fouts and her colleagues at the National Institutes of Health. They studied baby crying among the Bofi people of the Central African Republic. The Bofi have two lifestyles, farming and foraging. It turns out that "Bofi farmer children exhibited high levels of fussing and crying when abruptly weaned while Bofi forager children showed no marked sign of distress." On the other hand, forager children were more apt to cry after weaning, while farmer children were much less fussy. Zimmer explains:
Carrie Bad Mama would have got the secondary allusion.)
Of course, one doesn't need a fussy baby in order not to get eight hours of sleep. But that's another post.
The foragers nurse their children many times a day and wean them by gradually taper off nursing. The farmers, on the other hand, cut off their children abruptly -- in part because the women need to get back to working in their fields. [...] Fouts and her colleagues see a subtle strategy at work here. The farmer children may cry in response to weaning because it represents the end of a reliable milk supply and perhaps even because weaning raises the odds of their mothers will get pregnant with another child that will compete for the mother's investment. But once the farmer children are weaned and it is clear that their cries will not do them any more good, they don't waste any further effort on the tears. The forager children, on the other hand, don't get that clear signal of an impending cut-off, and so they don't fuss and wail more in response. But it's also important to bear in mind that in the foraging community, the children are always around some relative who will be quick to pick up a child. So even after weaning, crying still has some value as a signal, and so the children keep it up.I was going to call this a Foutsian bargain, but then I remembered that the barely lamented Dennis Miller once made the same joke about Dan "nosebleed section" Fouts on Monday Night Football. (And only