July 15, 2024
Newborn Babies

Newborn Babies Have an Innate Ability to Perceive the Beat in Music, Study Finds

New research conducted by scientists from the University of Amsterdam and the HUN-REN Research Center for Natural Sciences (TTK) in Hungary has confirmed that newborn babies have the ability to perceive the beat in music. The study reveals that this ability is not solely due to the statistical learning skills of infants, but rather a distinct cognitive mechanism that is already active at birth. The finding has important implications for understanding how newborn babies perceive, remember, and process music.

Henkjan Honing, professor of Music Cognition at the University of Amsterdam, explains that while there is still a lot that remains unknown about newborns’ musical perception, previous research from 2009 had indicated that babies as young as a few days old can hear a regular pulse in music – the beat – which is essential for making and appreciating music.

Seeking to replicate and expand on their previous findings, the researchers conducted an experiment using a new paradigm. They examined 27 newborn babies and manipulated the timing of drum rhythms to investigate whether babies could differentiate between learning the order of sounds in a drum rhythm (statistical learning) and recognizing a beat (beat induction). The babies were exposed to two versions of one drum rhythm through headphones: one with isochronous timing, where the distance between sounds was always the same, allowing for the perception of a beat, and another with jittered timing, where the timing was random, making beat perception impossible but allowing for the learning of sound sequences.

Since observing behavioral responses in newborn babies is challenging, the researchers measured brain wave activity (EEG) while the babies were asleep. In doing so, they were able to analyze the babies’ brain responses. The results demonstrated that the babies perceived the beat when the time interval between beats was consistent. However, when the same pattern was played with irregular time intervals, the babies did not recognize a beat. This distinction highlights that the ability to perceive the beat is innate and not merely a result of learned sound sequences, according to István Winkler, professor at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology at TTK and co-author of the study.

The findings suggest that beat perception is a specific skill exhibited by newborns, emphasizing the importance of baby and nursery rhymes for the auditory development of young children. A deeper understanding of early perception is crucial for unraveling the mysteries of infant cognition and the role that musical skills may play in early development.

In conclusion, Henkjan Honing emphasizes that perceiving regularity in music is not a trivial ability. While many individuals can easily pick up the beat and discern changes in its tempo, this phenomenon holds significance as it enables collective dancing and music-making. Beat perception can thus be considered a fundamental human trait that likely played a pivotal role in the evolution of our capacity for music.

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1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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