How is complaining different from complaining

The difference between complaining and whining

Complaints and whining can be differentiated by the type of dissatisfaction and by our motivation to express it. Complaints involve expressing fair and legitimate dissatisfaction with the aim of reaching a solution or remedy. If we express legitimate dissatisfaction but do so without the aim of a solution, we are merely venting. And when the dissatisfaction we express is trivial or inconsequential and nothing in particular deserves attention, we whine.

The distinction is significant because complaining, venting, and whining have very different effects on our psychology and emotions. How we complain has a profound effect on us, many of which we don't realize. They affect us materially (read, Do you speak when you should?), Emotionally (read, how much of your life do you spend angry?), Physically (read, When Minor Ailments Are Serious), and psychologically (read, Harmed a complaint to our sanity?).

Additionally, the way we express dissatisfaction has a significant impact on how we are perceived by those we express it to (read, The Survival Guide to Dealing with Chronic Complainants). Now, a new study expands this knowledge by showing that children by the age of three can distinguish between complaining and whining and react accordingly.



In the first part of the study, young children were exposed to an adult who was emotionally stressed in various situations. In some situations the harm was legitimate (for example, when an adult dropped the lid of a toy box onto another's hand), and in some cases, the adult responded to a minor discomfort (for example, when the shirt sleeve fell on Lid of the toy box got stuck). The adult responded to all incidents with pouting, frowning, and whimpering.

In the second part of the study, the child received two helium balloons and the adult one. The adult then "accidentally" released his helium balloon and again showed signs of distress. The children were much quicker to offer the adult one of their own balloons if they had previously seen that they were in distress for legitimate reasons (their hand was trapped in the toy box) than if they had seen them in because of unjustified balloons Distressed (with their shirt sleeves trapped in the toy box).

The study shows that children by the age of three can distinguish legitimate complaints from whining and advertisements, accordingly, empathy. It is a critical step to consider whether our complaints are worthwhile, what we are trying to achieve by the utterance, and how this could affect the people around us. This is a critical step that too many of us skip over in today's discomfort culture.

Check out my short and very personal TED talk on mental health here:



For more information about the complaint about psychology and its impact on our lives and relationships, see The screeching wheel.

Reference: “Small children sympathize less than a reaction to unjustified emotional stress”, Robert Hepach, Amrisha Vaish and Michael Tomasello, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Developmental Psychology, online, August 13, 2012

Copyright 2012 Guy Winch

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