When it comes to calming infants, a new study has found music to be a much more effective antidote than baby talk.
While prior studies have examined the impact singing and speech have on infants’ attention, study co-author Isabelle Peretz, a professor at the University of Montreal in Canada, explained that the team “wanted to know how they affect a baby’s emotional self-control,” Medical News Today reported.
In order to investigate whether babies possess the mental capacity to rhythmically synchronize with music — what researchers refer to as musical “entrainment” — the researchers behind the study conducted a couple of experiments in which 30 healthy six to nine month old babies were exposed to music and speech.
The researchers behind the study, which was published in the journal Infancy, found that in comparison to infants exposed to speech — including “baby talk” — those exposed to music stayed calm for significantly longer.
In the first of the two experiments carried out by the researchers, the researchers either spoke directly to infants while they were calm or played recordings of a Turkish singer’s songs — songs which they’d never been exposed to prior to the experiment. The songs of Turkish origin were selected in order to ensure that their infants were not influenced by the possibility of a sensitivity to the voices of their parents.
The calm youngsters were exposed to music or speech until they displayed an expression referred to as a “cry face,” which was defined by an opening mouth, raised cheeks, lowered brows and the corners of the lips stretched to the side.
Calm infants who listened to music managed to stay calm for about 9 minutes, whereas those who were exposed to direct speech — regardless of whether or not it was baby speech — only managed to remain calm for about 4 minutes.
As for the lack of any “significant distinction” between baby talk and regular speech, study first author Mariève Corbeil with the University of Montreal noted that the finding “came as a surprise.”
The lack of significant distinction between the two types of speech came as a surprise to us
In the second of the two experiments, the babies listened to recordings of their mothers singing songs in a language familiar to them – French. While the babies remained calm for longer than those who listened to the researchers speaking directly to them by a couple of minutes, they didn’t stay calm for as long as they did when they listened to music in a language unfamiliar to them. Subsequently, the researchers found this to suggest that it is the song’s rhythm, not its words that appeal to infants.
Peretz stated that the study’s findings indicate that babies do get “carried away by the music, which suggests they do have the mental capacity to be ‘entrained.'”
According to the team of psychologists, the study’s findings are important because mothers, particularly Western ones, have an inclination to speak to their children much more often than they sing. And it is this singing that offers emotion-regulatory properties, the Daily Mail reported.
A study published earlier this year in the UK medical journal The Lancet suggests that doctors can reduce pre-operation anxiety in patients by employing music therapy to calm their nerves.