The study shows that by nine months, babies are categorizing songs as happy or sad in the same way that pre-schoolers and adults do.
Researchers found that babies responded differently to upbeat tunes, such as ‘Ode to Joy’ from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, compared to a selection of gloomier tunes.
The finding was made by experts from Brigham Young University in the US where they conducted tests on 96 infants aged between three and nine months.
By nine months, babies could do the opposite – that is, pick out the sorrowful sound of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony from a series of happy pieces.
The results show that babies are making sense of the world long before they can talk, claims psychology professor and study author Ross Flom.
‘Infants master so many things in such a short time frame. One of the first things babies understand communicatively is emotion, so for them the melody is the message.
To find out whether babies were able to tell the difference between different scores, researchers designed experiments that ‘take advantage of what babies say with their eyes’. First they displayed an ’emotionally-neutral’ face for the baby while music played.
When the baby looked away from the face, the music stopped and the researchers queued up a new song from a playlist of five happy and five sad pieces.
For each, observers recorded how long the baby paid attention to the face. The babies that noticed a switch from happy to sad, or vice versa, stared at the face three to four seconds longer than usual because of their heightened interest.
The same method has been used in another experiment to show that show that four- and six-month-old babies from English-only households can tell different languages are being spoken simply by watching and not hearing the person speaking.
The researchers selected songs with the greatest consensus as happy or sad based on ratings by average adults and children.
The happy music included: the Brandenburg Concerto No3 (First movement) by Bach; Symphony No 9 (Fourth movement) by Beethoven, and Petrushka by Stravinsky.
Among the sad music was: Elegie by Faure; Aase’s Death by Greig, and Symphony No7 (Second Movement) by Beethoven.
Susan Kenney, a music professor at the university, said there were some important technical differences between the difference types of music.
She added: “The happy songs were all in major keys with fairly short phrases or motives that repeated.The tempo and melodic rhythms were faster than any of the sad selections, and the melodies had a general upward direction.
Four of the sad songs were in minor keys and all had a slower beat and long melodic rhythms. For an infant to notice those differences is fascinating.
Professor Flom believes this period of learning about emotion in sounds is a natural step before learning to talk.
The report said: “Infants’ discrimination of music is important because music, like speech, is communicative and a basic function of music and speech is to express meaning through emotion.”
And since infants can understand musical patterns prior to understanding words, in essence, music allows your infant to practice “listening ahead” and anticipating what will come next based on her prior experience. This skill is vital for making sense of the complex stream of sounds in speech, according to “The Blackwell Handbook of Infant Development,” by Gavin Bremner. Speech is made up of strings of sound that constantly change. Most children learn to understand your speech sounds as symbols that make up a language code by age 1, with repeated listening leading to this understanding.
The results of the musical study will be published in the academic journal Infant Behavior and Development. (Reprinted from DAILY MAIL REPORTER)