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How can cry acoustics associate newborns’ distress levels with neurophysiological and behavioral signals?

How can cry acoustics associate newborns’ distress levels with neurophysiological and behavioral signals?

Laguna Ana, Pusil Sandra, Acero-Pousa Irene, Zegarra-Valdivia Jonathan Adrián, Paltrinieri Anna Lucia, Bazán Àngel, Piras Paolo, Palomares i Perera Clàudia, Garcia-Algar Oscar, Orlandi Silvia
Frontiers in Neuroscience

Introduction: Even though infant crying is a common phenomenon in humans’ early life, it is still a challenge for researchers to properly understand it as a reflection of complex neurophysiological functions. Our study aims to determine the association between neonatal cry acoustics with neurophysiological signals and behavioral features according to different cry distress levels of newborns.

Methods: Multimodal data from 25 healthy term newborns were collected simultaneously recording infant cry vocalizations, electroencephalography (EEG), near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) and videos of facial expressions and body movements. Statistical analysis was conducted on this dataset to identify correlations among variables during three different infant conditions (i.e., resting, cry, and distress). A Deep Learning (DL) algorithm was used to objectively and automatically evaluate the level of cry distress in infants.

Results: We found correlations between most of the features extracted from the signals depending on the infant’s arousal state, among them: fundamental frequency (F0), brain activity (delta, theta, and alpha frequency bands), cerebral and body oxygenation, heart rate, facial tension, and body rigidity. Additionally, these associations reinforce that what is occurring at an acoustic level can be characterized by behavioral and neurophysiological patterns. Finally, the DL audio model developed was able to classify the different levels of distress achieving 93% accuracy.

Conclusion: Our findings strengthen the potential of crying as a biomarker evidencing the physical, emotional and health status of the infant becoming a crucial tool for caregivers and clinicians.

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