Singing calms baby longer than talking
New study shows that babies become distressed twice as fast when listening to speech compared to song.
In a new study from the University of Montreal, infants remained calm twice as long when listening to a song, which they didn't even know, as when listening to speech. The study involved thirty healthy infants aged between six and nine months, and appears in the journal Infancy.
"Many studies have looked at how singing and speech affect infants' attention, but we wanted to know how they affect a baby's emotional self-control. Emotional self-control is obviously not developed in infants, and we believe singing helps babies and children develop this capacity."
Isabelle Peretz PhD, Professor and Director, the International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research (BRAMS), Center for Research on Brain, Music and Language (CRBML), Université de Montréal, Canada.
Humans are naturally enraptured by music. In adults and older children, this "entrainment" is displayed by behaviours such as foot-tapping, head-nodding, or drumming.
Entrainment is the ability to determine or modify a phase, or period of a phase or interval in the flow of particles, gas or fluid. In this research, the interrupted flow of air — or sound.
Peretz explained: "Infants do not synchronize their external behaviour with music, perhaps because they lack the requisite physical or mental ability. Part of our study was to determine if they have the mental ability. Our finding shows that the babies did get carried away by the music, which suggests they do have the mental capacity to be "entrained".
Researchers took a variety of measures to ensure the children's reaction to the music was not influenced by other factors, such as sensitivity to their mother's voice.
Both the adult speech or "baby talk", and music presented to infants were spoken in Turkish, so that the song and language were unfamiliar.
"The performer sang Turkish play songs, not Western ones. This is an important point. Studies have shown that the songs we sing to infants have a specific range of tones and rhythms. Every parent knows it's not much use singing Rihanna to their baby!"
Mariève Corbeil, first author, Doctoral candidate, International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research (BRAMS), Center for Research on Brain, Music and Language (CRBML), Université de Montréal, Canada.
Secondly, babies were not exposed to any other stimuli. "Although their parents were in the room, they sat behind the babies, so their facial expressions could not influence their child. Infants were also exposed to recordings, rather than a live performance, to ensure comparable performances for all children and no social interactions between performer and child," Corbeil added.
When the infants were calm, parents took a seat behind the infant and the experiment began. Researchers played the recordings until an infant made the "cry face" - lowered brows, lip corners pulled to the side, mouth opening and raised cheeks. This is infants' most common facial expression of distress.
Corbeil: "When listening to the Turkish song, babies remained calm on average for approximately nine minutes. For speech, it was roughly only half that, regardless of whether in baby-talk or not." On average, baby-talk kept infants calm for just over four minutes, for adult-directed speech, also just under four minutes. "The lack of significant distinction between the two types of speech came as a surprise to us," she added.
They then tested their findings by exposing a different set of infants to recordings of mothers singing songs in a familiar language (French), and found the same effect.
"Our findings leave little doubt about the efficacy of singing nursery rhymes for maintaining infants' composure for extended periods.
"Even in the relative sterile environment of a testing room — black walls, dim illumination, no toys, and no human visual or tactile stimulation — the sound of a woman singing prolonged infants' positive or neutral states and inhibited distress.
"While infants listened to the Turkish play song for roughly nine minutes before meeting the cry-face criterion, it was six minutes for the song in French, a language with which they were very familiar."
Mariève Corbeil PhD
"These findings speak to the intrinsic importance of music, and of nursery rhymes in particular, which appeal to our desire for simplicity, and repetition."
Isabelle Peretz PhD
The findings are important because mothers, and Western mothers in particular, speak much more often than they sing to their children. Therefore, missing out on the emotion-regulatory properties of singing. The researchers believe that singing could be particularly useful for the parents who are challenged by adverse socio-economic or emotional circumstances.
"Although infant distress signals typically prompt parental comforting interventions, they induce frustration and anger in some at-risk parents, leading to insensitive responding and, in the worst cases, to infant neglect or abuse.
"At-risk parents within the purview of social service agencies could be encouraged to play vocal music to infants and, better still, to sing to them."
Isabelle Peretz PhD
Much is known about the efficacy of infant-directed (ID) speech and singing for capturing attention, but little is known about their role in regulating affect. In Experiment 1, infants 7–10 months of age listened to scripted recordings of ID speech, adult-directed speech, or singing in an unfamiliar language (Turkish) until they met a criterion of distress based on negative facial expression. They listened to singing for roughly twice as long as speech before meeting the distress criterion. In Experiment 2, they were exposed to natural recordings of ID speech or singing in a familiar language. As in Experiment 1, ID singing was considerably more effective than speech for delaying the onset of distress. We suggest that the temporal patterning of ID singing, with its regular beat, metrical organization, and tempo, plays an important role in inhibiting distress, perhaps by promoting entrainment and predictive listening.
Mariève Corbeil, Sandra E. Trehub, and Isabelle Peretz published "Singing Delays the Onset of Infant Distress," in Infancy on September 22, 2015 (DOI: 10.1111/infa.12114.) Corbeil, Peretz and Trehub are affiliated with the University of Montreal's International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research (BRAMS) and Center for Research on Brain, Music and Language (CRBML). Peretz is also a professor at the university's Department of Psychology and holds the Canada Research Chair in Neurocognition of Music. Trehub is affiliated with the University of Toronto Mississauga's Department of Psychology.
This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Advanced Interdisciplinary Research in Singing, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Fonds de recherche du Québec--Nature et Technologies.
The University of Montreal is officially known as Université de Montréal.
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Nov 3, 2015 Fetal Timeline Maternal Timeline News News Archive
Infants remained calm twice as long when listening to a song,
which they didn't even know, as when listening to speech.
Image Credit: Public Domain