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 they did when listening to speech.
The findings are important because mothers, and Western mothers in particular, speak much more often than they sing to their children, 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," Professor Isabelle Peretz, of the university's Center for Research on Brain, Music and Language told Science Daily. "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."
The study, recently published in Infancy, involved thirty healthy infants aged between six and nine months.
"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," said Professor Peretz.
"Emotional self-control is obviously not developed in infants, and we believe singing helps babies and children develop this capacity."
Humans are in fact naturally enraptured by music. In adults and older children, this "entrainment" is displayed by behaviours such as foot-tapping, head-nodding, or drumming.
"Infants do not synchronise their external behaviour with the music, either because they lack the requisite physical or mental ability," Peretz explained.
"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."
- Science Daily