Singing keeps babies calm longer than talking, a new study says.
Researchers found that 30 infants, ages 6 to 9 months, remained calm for an average of nine minutes when listening to singing, even if it wasn’t in their own language.
That compared with just over four minutes when the infants heard baby-talk, and just under four minutes when they heard normal adult conversation, according to the research team at the University of Montreal.
“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,” Isabelle Peretz, a psychology professor at the Center for Research on Brain, Music and Language, said in a university news release.
“Emotional self-control is obviously not developed in infants, and we believe singing helps babies and children develop this capacity,” she added.
The study was published recently in the journal Infancy.
People are naturally responsive to music, and older children and adults display this so-called “entrainment” by actions such as foot-tapping, head-nodding or drumming, according to the researchers.
“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, which suggests they do have the mental capacity to be ‘entrained,’ ” she explained.
The findings might lead to new ways to prevent child abuse, Peretz suggested.
“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,” she said.
At-risk parents could be encouraged to play vocal music to their babies or, better still, to sing to them, Peretz said.
The U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has more about infant health and care.