Music helps develop baby brains

Study finds babies who play with music have boosted speech and music response.

25th April 2016
Music helps develop baby brains (iStock)

Some might consider it cruel subjecting to you beautiful young baby to the poor music choices you've made in the past (this aptly named Justin Bieber song perhaps?), but a new study has found that playing musical games with them improves their music and speech processing powers.

Musical youth

In the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists from the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences compared the brain responses of two sets of babies who each underwent different types of active play.

In the first group the babies played along with their parents with toy cars, blocks and other fun bits and bobs that required significant coordination, but they conducted the session without music. The second group was led in a music activity where they were helped by their parents to tap out a beat to a waltz, a difficult time signature for babies to grasp.

"In both the music and control groups, we gave babies experiences that were social, required their active involvement and included body movements - these are all characteristics that we know help people learn," says lead author Christina Zhao. "The key difference between the play groups was whether the babies were moving to learn a musical rhythm."

Drum battle

Aside from discovering that babies playing the drums are utterly adorable (see video below), the researchers found that babies in the music group showed stronger brain responses to changes in speech and music when they underwent tests, suggesting they were better able to detect patterns in sounds.

"Infants experience a complex world in which sounds, lights and sensations vary constantly," says co-author Patricia Kuhl. "Pattern perception is an important cognitive skill, and improving that ability early may have long-lasting effects on learning."

So next time you get out the toddler toys it might be worth cranking up the stereo (ok, not too loud) and having a mini disco to boost your baby’s brainpower. Now excuse us while we dust off that old Ace of Base record…

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