[JPL] Infants Can Tell Happy Music From Sad
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Thu Oct 16 10:01:51 EDT 2008
Infants Can Tell Happy Music From Sad
Study illustrates the rapid development of the human brain
Posted October 16, 2008
By Randy Dotinga
THURSDAY, Oct. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Babies as young as five months old can
distinguish between upbeat and gloomy music, providing more evidence that
the brain's ability to detect emotion develops early, researchers report.
"They can tell emotions apart," said study author Ross Flom, an associate
professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah. "They
don't understand that this is happy music and this is sad music, but they
know they're different."
Scientists already knew that babies can distinguish between elements of
music like pitch and tempo, Flom said, but until now, no one had studied if
they could also notice the difference between types of emotion.
While the babies in the study were too young to talk, they did have the
ability to express interest in the outside world and become bored. So, the
study authors latched onto this trait to figure out how they perceived
The researchers recruited 96 babies and played various types of music for
them, Flom said.
Some of the music was upbeat, including the theme from the "Peanuts" TV
shows, the fourth movement from Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 ("Ode to Joy")
and the jazz piece "Tiger Rag," performed by the New Orleans group
Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Other selections tended toward the sad side, including the second movement
of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7.
The babies would repeatedly listen to three selections from one category of
music -- happy or sad -- and then the researchers would play a selection
from the other category. The researchers gauged whether the babies perked up
and noticed a difference in the music by paying more attention to a video of
a neutral-looking male or female human face in front of them.
Most 5-month-old babies showed signs that they could discriminate between
types of music when a happy selection followed a sad selection, but not the
other way around, Flom said.
"At nine months, they can tell individual happy pieces and sad pieces
apart," he said. "It shows the remarkable cognitive skills that these kids
have. They've mastered a lot in nine months -- 270 days."
The findings, expected to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal
Infant Behavior & Development, are "just another way of documenting that
babies are very attuned very early in development to emotion," Flom said.
"It helps them to learn communication and helps promote early language
But, Flom added, the study says nothing about the value of music as a tool
to help babies become smarter.
Paul Sanberg, director of the University of South Florida College of
Medicine's Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair, said the study
authors have come up with a unique way to gauge what babies can perceive.
"If they [babies] have no language, you can't ask them," Sanberg said. "It's
kind of like doing an animal experiment: You're trying to interpret what the
subject is feeling or doing through nonverbal responses."
Flom said the next step in the research is to study whether babies can
detect aggression -- or non-aggression -- in dogs.
"You and I don't require much training to know whether we should approach a
dog and scratch it on the chin or back away pretty quickly," he said.
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