Sensitivity to musical rhythm promotes social development in infants

Summary: Singing to a baby helps support social development and interaction, researchers report.

Source: Vanderbilt University

According to a study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), Marcus Autism Center, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and Emory University School of Medicine enrolled 112 infants aged 2 or 6 months.

The study tracked infants’ gaze moment by moment to reveal that the rhythm of caregiver singing causes infant gaze to synchronize or be entrained to caregivers’ social cues at sub-second timescales.

By 2 months of age, when infants first engage with others interactively, infants were twice as likely to watch singers’ eyes locked in time to the musical beat than what one would expect by chance.

By 6 months of age, when infants are highly experienced in face-to-face musical play and are developing increasingly sophisticated rhythmic and communicative behaviors like babbling, they were more than four times more likely to eye gaze singers synchronized with the music. Beats.

“Singing to infants seems like such a simple act, but it’s packed with rich and meaningful social information,” said study lead author Miriam Lense, Ph.D., assistant professor of ear, nose and throat. – laryngology and co-director of the Music Cognition Lab at VUMC. . “Here we show that when caregivers sing to their infants, they intuitively structure their behavior to support caregiver-infant social bonding and infant social learning.”

During the tests, the researchers used eye-tracking technology to measure each baby’s every eye movement as they watched videos of people engaging them with a song.

“For this study, we used videos of singing rather than live singing to ensure that any change in baby appearance behavior was due to the baby, not the singer adapting to the baby,” said Lense said. “Babies could gaze anywhere while watching the videos, but we found that their gaze behavior was not random.”

“Critically, the predictable rhythm of singing is essential for this driven social interaction. When we experimentally manipulate singing so that it no longer has a predictable rhythm, entrainment is disrupted and infants fail to synchronize their gaze with social cues from caregivers,” she added.

The researchers confirmed their findings in a different group of 6-month-old infants who watched both the original singing videos, as well as videos that had been manipulated to be choppy so their rhythms were no longer predictable.

While the infants again displayed trained gaze in the original videos when the singing was rhythmically predictable, this time-locked gaze effect was no longer present when the predictable rhythm was disrupted.

“This is important because it reveals a remarkable physical coupling between caregiver behavior and infant experience,” said Warren Jones, Ph.D., lead study author and Nien Distinguished Chair in Autism at Emory University School of Medicine. “Without awareness, something as simple and intuitive as caregiver singing triggers a whole cascade of behaviors that alter infants’ experiences.”

“Although What a caregiver expresses is important, when and How? ‘Or’ What they express social cues is especially critical for infant-caregiver communication,” Lense added. “Rhythmic predictability – a universal feature of song – is an integral mechanism for structuring social interactions and supporting infant social development.”

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By 2 months of age, when infants first engage with others interactively, infants were twice as likely to watch singers’ eyes locked in time to the musical beat than what one would expect by chance. Image is in public domain

Reyna Gordon, Ph.D., associate professor of otolaryngology and co-director of the Music Cognition Lab at VUMC, said the study underscores that making music isn’t just about entertainment: making music is an essential aspect of early social-emotional development.

“It is remarkable that these infants essentially follow the beat of the music with their eyes by modulating their eye contact with the eyes of the singer around the beat (or impulse) singing,” said Gordon, who was not involved in the study.

“These findings represent a major advance in our understanding of the extent to which very young children are responsive to musical rhythm, suggesting that the innateness of music is closely linked to early social engagement,” she added. .

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Mental Health, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, National Institute for Deafness and Communication Disorders) and the GRAMMY Foundation.

Lense said his team has now expanded the research to study synchronization in autism as part of the Sound Health Initiative, a partnership between the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. , in association with the National Endowment for the Arts.

About this news on social development and music research

Author: Press office
Source: Vanderbilt University
Contact: Press Office – Vanderbilt University
Image: Image is in public domain

Original research: The findings will appear in PNAS

Joel C. Hicks