Having spent three days stuck in airports the past week, I've had a lot of opportunity to observe crying babies in their natural habitat, and you know what? Babies love mobile phones.
I began to suspect this a few months ago when I saw two normally friendly babies in a hilarious knockdown, dragout fight over a Sony-Ericsson that was the same model owned by both their mothers. My sister no longer even bothers looking for her mobile, but simply asks her 2-year old where it is. So after I saw the third harried mother in the airport wordlessly hand over her mobile to quiet a screaming toddler, I figured I should start writing the Nature cover story. But I can't find anything on the web about the phenomenon except videos and toys confirming its basic truth. So it falls to me to make up an entertaining explanantion.
I suspect that babies love mobiles for a number of reasons: interactivity, good hand (and mouth) feel. But toy phones also have those qualities and I've never seen a baby willing to trade a Nokia for a Hasbro. In fact, it has to be mommy or daddy's Nokia, which indicates that the main attraction isn't physical or perceptual, but social. Babies see the intimacy and emotion that their parents pour into their phones and they want to extract it. They are soothed by the love with which the phone is impregnated. That's my stuck-in-O'Hare-at-3AM theory, anyway.