Research

woman with a baby on her lap
 

Infants Match Talking Voices and Faces

When people speak, their facial movements as well as their sounds help us understand what they are saying. Such visual information is especially important in noisy backgrounds. Individuals have unique ways of speaking and unique ways of moving when they speak. As a result, adults can match the speech passages of unfamiliar individuals to silent videos of those individuals. Surprisingly, 6-month-old infants were similar in their ability to match unfamiliar speech passages to silent videos of the previously heard speaker. 


baby dressed in pink
 

Infants Match Singing Voices and Faces

Infants can also match the sounds and sights of singing. After 6-month-olds listen to a a children’s song, they successfully judge which of the women in two silent videos was the previously heard speaker. 



girl dressed in pink with headphone on
 

Children with Cochlear Implants Recognize Melodies

Many children who are profoundly deaf use cochlear implants, which provide partial restoration of hearing and enable these children to acquire the language of their community. Unfortunately, cochlear implants are less than ideal for music because they transmit degraded information about pitch. Nevertheless, we found that preschool and school-age children with implants could recognize the theme music from their favourite TV programs. They also recognized the voices of their beloved cartoon characters. Remarkably, most of these children enjoy participating in musical activities. 



baby in a shirt

Memory for Melodies

Infants remember the melodies that they hear regularly. They also remember specific aspects of the performances. In one study, 7-month-old infants listened to an unfamiliar lullaby for 5 minutes daily for 2 weeks. When they subsequently visited the laboratory, they were given a listening choice between the exact version of the song heard at home or a version sung at a different pitch level (higher or lower). Infants chose to listen longer to the novel pitch level, which indicated that they remembered the version heard at home. 



baby dressed in pink sitting on her dad's lap

Musical Preferences

We have shown that infants prefer vocal renditions of melodies (sung to la la) to piano renditions and they are happiest with songs sung in face-to-face contexts. Just as adults prefer familiar to unfamiliar music, infants prefer the songs their mother sings to other songs. Unlike adults, who tend to have negative reactions to music in a foreign or unfamiliar style, young infants do not have comparable aversions for unconventional music. Perhaps because of limited knowledge of the music of their own culture, they are more flexible and open-minded listeners.

 

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Toddlers and preschoolers’ singing

The general consensus among music educators is that toddlers and young preschoolers are generally unable to produce recognizable songs. However, the audio and video recordings that we have received from the community indicate otherwise. In some cases, toddlers sing clearly even before they can speak. In other cases, they incorporate the rhythms of the songs while speaking (rather than singing) the words. There seems to be immense variation, perhaps even greater than that seen for language acquisition. We would welcome additional samples of singing from toddlers 18 months of age and older.