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“I don’t want to brush my teeth!”
“But why can’t we have dessert?”
“We cleaned our room last night!”
“It’s not faaaaiiiir!!!”
As a mom, I certainly don’t need a stinking study to tell me that whining is hands-down the most annoying sound on the planet. Nevertheless I got one: Research just published in the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology confirms that no other sound can distract, irritate or otherwise unnerve like the universal, nasal tone people (okay, let’s call it here: kids) use to express their overwhelming and frequent discontent.
In the study, a group of poor adults (whom I dearly hope were getting paid for their participation) were asked to perform simple math problems while listening to a variety of sounds ranging from blissful silence to sobbing infants (with some annoyingly exaggerated baby talk and the sounds of a table saw thrown in just for fun). Both male and female participants completed fewer problems and made more mistakes when distracted by the god-awful, nagging sound of childish whining than any other noise they were exposed to. (It’s worth noting that Baha Men’s Who Let the Dogs Out was notably absent from the maddening lineup.)
The researchers were very careful to eliminate any sort of bias. For instance, the annoying verbal sounds were recorded in Hindi and Portuguese, so that the test was all about the sound of the words -- and not their meaning. They used parent as well as non-parent participants, to determine which group would be bothered more by the cries, baby talk and whines in particular. (Turns out it doesn’t matter if you have kids of your own or not; that crap annoys equally across the board.)
Maybe whining has an evolutionary purpose. After all, kids whine instinctively. (As much as we may like to, most of my mommy friends aren’t bustling around the house moaning, “But I don’t waaaant to make dinner tonight!”) Perhaps the genetic kid-code was historically built to include whining to make sure the sixteenth child didn’t get ignored or forgotten altogether. But now that the average American couple has a mere two children, I think we can all agree that whining is as obsolete as dragging knuckles and wisdom teeth. If anyone has a plan for phasing it out, I’m all (delicate, hairless) ears.