Science
6:00 am
Mon January 6, 2014

How Do Infants Understand and React to Music? – UT Professor Investigates

For many people, most days would not be complete without music. Whether it's exercising to your favorite playlist or jamming along to the radio on your way home for work. 

But how much do infants get out of music? And are there types of music that babies prefer?

A professor at the Children’s Research Laboratory on the University of Texas at Austin campus is trying to find out.

“We know that infants like music, any type of music," Dr. Eugenia Costa-Giomi says.

Costa-Giomi is a professor of music and human learning at UT working on an experiment examining infants' perceptions of music.

“We know that infants are drawn to speech," Costa-Giomi says. "They prefer to listen to speech [over] almost any other sound and there have been so many studies done on that. However, none of the studies have used sounds that could be classified as music.”

So, Costa-Giomi is putting together the puzzle pieces by, strangely enough, removing variables.

While another one of her studies determined babies are more interested in watching and hearing a person sing than watching and hearing a person speak, her current experiment takes out the visual element – focusing solely on listening.

“So when we sing, we sing words. So when infants show a preferential attention to song – what is it that’s drawing their attention? Is it the music part? Or is it the words?" Costa-Giomi says.

The babies in this study hear two variations of one song – one with singing and one without. Costa-Giomi tests an infant’s attention span by recording how long they look at a screen for each song. When they look away, the music stops.

“At the end of 16 trials – half of them instrumental, half of them sung – I’m going to be able to tell what [the baby] paid more attention to,” she says.

The experiment last just a few minutes, but the final outcome of the study will have to wait for more trials.

While researchers are still dissecting whether music really affects a baby’s brain development, they do know the answers to some other common questions. For example, studies show infants like regular music just as much as music labeled “baby music."

“If you like it, chances are that your children will like it as well, right? And if we do it together probably there will be an added value of communication and bonding between the parent and the child," Costa-Giomi says.

The Infant Music Lab is always looking for young volunteers. Parents can sign their children up for one of Costa-Giomi's experiments by emailing infantmusiclab@gmail.com or by calling (512) 475-7880.

For information on other studies being conducted at the Children's Research Lab, call (512) 471-6261.