Several scientific works have shown the benefits of concerts on our mental and physical health. But can babies also benefit from it? A Canadian study looked into this question.
To do this, researchers at the University of Toronto at Scarborough (UTSC) conducted an experiment with 120 infants aged 6 to 14 months. They divided them into two groups: the first attended an opera in a concert hall that also serves as a research center at McMaster University, while the second watched a recording of the same performance. The scientists observed the babies’ reactions through heart monitors and tablets installed on the backs of the seats on which the toddlers sat.
These devices allowed them to observe that the infants seemed much more interested in the live performance than in its recording. The opera that unfolded before their eyes for twelve minutes captured their attention 72% of the time, compared to 54% for the video recording. Also, the babies stayed focused longer when watching the opera than the recorded version.
This proves they were significantly more engaged to live music, according to Laura Cirelli, assistant professor in UTSC’s psychology department and co-author of the study, published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. “Even little babies who may never have experienced music in a community setting are already more engaged when it’s delivered in this way. This is one of the questions we ask ourselves as music cognition researchers: What makes live music worth experiencing? Why would people go to see a concert if there is not something fundamental to this musical experience that goes beyond listening to music alone?she said in a statement.
A beneficial collective experience
If live music seems to fascinate toddlers, that does not mean that recordings of operas and other concerts do not interest them. They just stimulate them differently. Attending a musical performance is a collective experience during which the audience becomes a “rhythmic mass”, to use the formula of the writer and essayist Elias Canetti. All the individuals present vibrate to the rhythm of the music and thus become one.
A moment of fusion that can be experienced at any age. Indeed, UTSC scientists noticed that babies had similar reactions to certain passages of opera: they could be very calm and quiet before all fussing when they heard a change in key or a note. that caught their attention. “Their heartbeats would quicken and slow down in the same way as the other babies watching the show”explained Laura Cirelli.
This study shows how music can be a cognitive stimulation tool for little ones. Previous research, the results of which were published in 2019 in the journal PNAS, notably showed that listening to melodies can improve the brain maturation of premature babies. Enough to encourage parents to make their children listen to music from an early age.