We've got rhythm...

In this research, we wanted to find out whether infants naturally move to music and, if so, how well they coordinate their movements to music. We also wanted to find out whether other regular auditory sounds (like dry rhythms) have the same effect. To this end, we tested the responses of 120 babies ages 5 months to 2 years as the babies were perched on one of their parents’ laps. We played recordings of various genres of music, including classical and rhythmic beats, or speech sounds, and watched as the babies moved their heads, arms, legs, and bodies in time. To see whether infants were in tune with the tempo, we used a three-dimensional motion capture system. Professional ballet dancers were also on hand to evaluate the movements and determine how well-coordinated they were with the music.


The infants responded with more rhythmic movement to the music than to the speech regardless of age. Strikingly, the more the infants were moving in time with the beat, the more they smiled. Our research suggests that it is the beat rather than other features of the music, such as the melody, that produces the response in infants. It remains to be understood why humans have developed this particular predisposition. One possibility is that it was a target of natural selection for music or that it has evolved for some other function that just happens to be relevant for music processing.


Below you can find two media reports on the study: A video coverage by National Public Radio of the unites States of America, and an BBC-interview about the study.

Rhythmic Engagement With Music in Infants


Interview with Dr. Marcel Zentner on the BBC Radio