September 26, 2005

Babies and foreign music

A recent article in PNAS has studied the responses of babies to music. 6-month old babies show general patterns of response to music regardless of whether or not it is foreign to their culture or not. 12-month old babies on the other hand, show a different pattern of response to their own culture's music compared to that of other cultures. However, babies had the ability to detect changes in foreign music, whereas adults lacked this ability. Previous research on non-native speech patterns and foreign faces also indicated that adults have difficulty differentiating between them.

PNAS vol. 102 no. 35 12639-12643

Tuning in to musical rhythms: Infants learn more readily than adults

Erin E. Hannon and Sandra E. Trehub

Domain-general tuning processes may guide the acquisition of perceptual knowledge in infancy. Here, we demonstrate that 12-month-old infants show an adult-like, culture-specific pattern of responding to musical rhythms, in contrast to the culture-general responding that is evident at 6 months of age. Nevertheless, brief exposure to foreign music enables 12-month-olds, but not adults, to perceive rhythmic distinctions in foreign musical contexts. These findings may indicate a sensitive period early in life for acquiring rhythm in particular or socially and biologically important structures more generally.


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