What evolutionary function do cries of pain serve?

Thread Starter

strantor

Joined Oct 3, 2010
5,633
I heard a dog barking frantically in the back of my property and went to investigate. The dog belonged to a nearby family, and had gotten tangled in barbed wire. I freed it and brought it home and was thinking out loud to the dog "it's a good thing a well fed human was the first to hear your cries, because most anything else around here would have eaten you."

Pain & fear. Almost all the creatures that I can think of that make vocalizations, make unique ones for pain & fear. This seems a counter-productive evolutionary adaptation. Why did all the creatures that evolved "speech" evolve a "I'm hurt / trapped / vulnerable, please come eat me now" announcement?

I can understand for pack animals, an alert to danger might preserve the pack at the expense of the individual, but that isn't really what I'm talking about. And even that, as it seems to me, often does more harm than good. Ever heard the term "fox in a hen house?" When a fox or other predator happens upon a treasure trove like a chicken coop, it is often whipped up into murderous frenzy by the excited cries of "I'm vulnerable, eat me now" from all the chickens, and kills every single one of them for no good reason. Several times its own weight in food that it can't eat.

No I'm not talking about the alert to danger, I'm talking about the "I'm hurt, come eat me" signal. Even if this is related to pack animals, what purpose does it serve to creatures other than humans? When a calf has a broken leg and lays out in the middle of the pasture bleating itself hoarse, what does it expect the other cows to do for it? Fashion a sled from branches and drag it to the vet? It seems almost like a placeholder in genetic programming with a comment line " # TO DO: Evolve thumbs and empathy, enable dragging to shaman" that all the creatures received but so far only humans have evolved into being able to benefit from it.

What's the deal here? Seems for almost all creatures the better response would be to shut up and work tirelessly to free yourself, or shut up and die alone. But in either case, shut up.
 

Beau Schwabe

Joined Nov 7, 2019
100
There is safety in numbers. A unique cry from one species to another alerts other animals of it's kind to help ward off any danger. This basic empathy and parental emotion transcends into other species.
 

Thread Starter

strantor

Joined Oct 3, 2010
5,633
The dead feel no pain. To shut up and die alone is a slow painful death.
So it's a "this is the end" signal? An intentional invitation to assisted suicide? I made the implication in jest but you seem to make it in earnest. Maybe you're onto something.

I wonder, if all creatures had a "self destruct" function where they could just instantaneous, painlessly die at will, how often it would be utilized. Would the dog caught in barbed wire have given up after 90 seconds of helpless thrashing and let itself expire? Would a calf fall dead as soon as it realized its leg was broken? Would I have died in 9th grade after failing my final exam?

To a dog caught in barbed wire, maybe 90 seconds is all it takes for the dog to honestly think it's reached the end of its life. It has no way of freeing itself, and if nothing came along to eat it or help it, it actually would die a long slow death. Same for the calf. Not the same for me in 9th grade, by try telling that to 9th grade me. Good thing there is not a self destruct feature, at least not for us humans.
 

BobTPH

Joined Jun 5, 2013
3,658
I expect that the cry for help evolved to get parental help for the very vulnerable babies, and then it was not discarded later, though its utility might have decreased.

Bob
 

atferrari

Joined Jan 6, 2004
4,425
I know I am not answering your question in the OP but I always questioned the actual usefulness of pain for the chronic or occasional sufferer. Pure Nature cruelty.
 

Thread Starter

strantor

Joined Oct 3, 2010
5,633
I know I am not answering your question in the OP but I always questioned the actual usefulness of pain for the chronic or occasional sufferer. Pure Nature cruelty.
That's a philosophical step deeper than what I asked, but maybe an even better question. Yeah, why pain at all? I've known two people who had neuropathy (where you can't feel parts of your body) who had to have limbs amputated because of an infection they didn't know they had until they smelled it. We need to know when something is wrong, but why does it have to be so intensely bad?Why couldn't the pain of a severe burn be like an intense itch?
 

ericgibbs

Joined Jan 29, 2010
13,620
hi S,
A recent study suggested that pain expletives are the same reaction family as the warning cries of some species when seeing a predator.
E
 

nsaspook

Joined Aug 27, 2009
8,665
I typically shout aloud "!@#f%@!" Or in the language of lions, "I've just smashed an appendage and would now like to be consumed, thumb first if possible!"
There is the pain scream from injury and then there is 'I'm F..ed for the rest of my short life scream' you hear and see in the animals eyes before you put a bullet into it's head to stop the pain.
 

Thread Starter

strantor

Joined Oct 3, 2010
5,633
I expect that the cry for help evolved to get parental help for the very vulnerable babies, and then it was not discarded later, though its utility might have decreased.

Bob
Ok, I guess there are no answers yet which make more sense (to me) so I'll chew on that one for a while.

It does seem to be somewhat hit-or-miss, with regards to the infantile tendencies grow out of or not. We lose the urge to suckle teats, but.... maybe not the best example. Many humans never outgrow the childish need for attention and drive around with their radio so loud that it must be painful to them. This cry for attention tickles at my own primal instinct to enter "fox in the henhouse" mode.
 

Thread Starter

strantor

Joined Oct 3, 2010
5,633
There is the pain scream from injury and then there is 'I'm F..ed for the rest of my short life scream' you hear and see in the animals eyes when you put a bullet into it's head to stop the pain.
Right, glad you made the distinction. The latter I understand. The former I don't. It seems to serve no evolutionary purpose. It unduly notifies and excites nearby predators.
 

MrSalts

Joined Apr 2, 2020
533
Your scream of pain is not calling anyone towards, if you are big enough, loud enough, you are scaring them away from you in your time of weakness and vulnerability. Much like a rabbit screaming as soon as it knows "flight" isn't possible and the scream is the only fight it has. Yes, rabbits scream and it sometimes frights owners into feeling like they hurt or traumatized their pet. Usually, it disorients an attacker enough to give them a second or two to escape.

remember, most injuries in early times of humans were not associate with hitting your thumb with a tool. Injuries were associated with a pack of wolves or a bear or something similar biting you.
 

boostbuck

Joined Oct 5, 2017
59
Evolutionary thinking is: any behaviour that improves chances of reproduction will be promoted. So how does screaming when trapped or injured improve survivability? There's a number of ideas on that: it can call attention and get help, it can scare predators, and it can call your predator's predator. But it's quite universal, so it seems it is in general a more effective strategy than keeping quiet.
 

gerty

Joined Aug 30, 2007
1,302
According to my Drill Instructor (circa 1970) on Parris Island, "Pain is weakness leaving the body" and his favorite "Pain is good... "
 
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