Infants also have a sense of rhythm

Infants also have a sense of rhythm

The more scientific research advances, the more we discover the extent of babies’ knowledge and abilities. A new study reveals that infants have a much more musical ear than we imagine. For good reason, they would have a natural affinity for rhythm.

Henkjan Honing, professor of musical cognition at the University of Amsterdam, and his colleagues had already observed in 2009 that infants barely a few days old could feel pulsation, that is to say the regular and continuous beat which marks the rhythm of a song. This cognitive skill is essential since it greatly facilitates the appreciation and understanding of music. It is therefore all the more remarkable that babies have it.

Although this discovery marked a turning point in our understanding of infant hearing, questions remained unanswered. That’s why Dutch and Hungarian researchers conducted an experiment with 27 newborns, in which they manipulated the timing of several drum beats. The first recording that the babies listened to was rhythmically isochronous, that is to say that the time difference between the sounds was always the same. The second was structured around the same drum rhythm, but with random timing. It was therefore more difficult to clearly perceive the rhythm of this sound extract.

Helmets equipped with sensors were placed on the heads of the infants, who were asleep throughout the experiment, so the academics could record and analyze electrical signals related to some of their brain activities. This experimental protocol made it possible to highlight the fact that babies were able to perceive the rhythm when the time interval between the beats of the drums was regular. However, they couldn’t distinguish it when the sounds came more randomly.

This shows that “the ability to hear rhythm is innate and does not simply result from learning sound sequences“, as stated by Professor István Winkler, co-author of the study, published in the journal Cognition, in a press release. And added: “Our results suggest that this is a specific skill of newborns (…). Better understanding early perception is very important to learn more about infant cognition and the role that musical skills may play in early development“.

This research confirms the idea put forward by previous scientific work, according to which babies prefer certain sound stimuli to others. A study from the Institut Marquès dating from 2018 even states that their musical preferences are formed even before their birth, when they are still in their mother’s womb. According to researchers at this Barcelona center specializing in medically assisted procreation, fetuses have a preference for classical or traditional music, like Mozart’s “A Little Night Music”.