If you want to keep from having a crying baby on your hands, consider singing a little or turning on some tunes. A new study published in the journal Infancy found that little ones stayed calm twice as long when listening to a song as they did when listening to someone speaking.
Adults and older children often show the effect of music through physical movements like head-nodding, foot-tapping and drumming. Isabelle Peretz, a professor at the University of Montreal's Center for Research on Brain, Music and Language, wanted to know if infants, who don't respond this way, experienced music differently.
"Infants do not synchronize their external behavior with the music, either because they lack the requisite physical or mental ability," Peretz said. "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."
Peretz and her colleagues observed 30 healthy babies between six and nine months old. To remove the bias of familiarity, both the singing and speaking were conducted in Turkish, as none of the children came from Turkish-speaking households. The infants listened to recordings of either adult speech, "baby talk" or music. The recordings excluded the possibility of social interactions between the kids and the performer.
While the youngsters were in a calm state, their parents sat out of view behind them and researchers played either a song or the speech. The recordings played until the babies showed a "cry face," the infant expression of anguish that includes lowered brows, lip corners pulled to the side, mouth opening and raised cheeks.
On average, the babies stayed calm for about nine minutes when listening to the song. When exposed to the speech, the babies remained calm for only half as long: Adult-directed speech held their attention for fewer than four minutes, while baby talk kept them calm for only slightly longer than four minutes.
"Our findings leave little doubt about the efficacy of singing nursery rhymes for maintaining infants' composure for extended periods," Peretz said in a statement. "Even in the relatively sterile environment of the 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."
Of course, music benefits everyone: Previous studies have found that it can reduce stress, soothe pain and even keep the brain sharp. But for very young ones, music plays an even more essential role. Children who are sung to in their earlier years develop more extensive vocabularies later in life and may have a greater ease communicating themselves. Amazingly, music stimulates more parts of the brain than any other human function and causes the brain to release dopamine, providing a person with pleasurable feelings.
The new findings are additionally important, stressed Peretz, because Western mothers don't sing to their child nearly as often as they talk to them.
And while this certainly applies to all families, singing and playing music could be especially helpful for parents who face socioeconomic or emotional challenges. Crying babies can be overwhelming or angering to ill-equipped parents, she added, so any easy intervention that lifts the baby's mood can also benefit the parent-child connection among at-risk families.
Anecdotally, parents have known for a long time that music is often the tissue to babies' tears, though song choice seemingly varies by baby.
Some tots prefer the poppy vocals of Taylor Swift:
Others find comfort in the timeless rhythm of Notorious B.I.G.:
Good tunes have also been shown to boost a person's mood while behind the wheel, which is no surprise to this little backseat driver:
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