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Singing more Effective at Calming Babies than Talking, Study Finds

Update Date: Oct 29, 2015 09:35 AM EDT

Singing is a more effective way of calming babies than talking, a new study reported.

Researchers from the University of Montreal set out to examine how singing and talking can influence "a baby's emotional self-control."

Professor Isabelle Perez of the University's Center for Research on Brain Music and Language, explained, "Emotional self-control is obviously not developed in infants, and we believe singing helps babies and children develop this capacity."

In regards to music, infants, unlike older children and adults, do not display evidence of "entrainment," which is when an organism moves along with an external rhythm (head-nodding and drumming). As a part of the study, the team also wanted to see if infants had the mental ability to synchronize with music given the right kind of push.

For the study, the team recruited 30 healthy infants between the ages of six-months and nine-months. The infants were exposed to Turkish speech - both adult-directed and baby-talk - and music recordings. The team chose a foreign language that the infants would not have been exposed to prior to the study. The researchers also made sure that there were no other forms of stimuli in the experimentation room.

Once the infants were calm, the parents were instructed to sit behind them. The team then played the recordings until the infants had a "cry face," which was defined as lowered brows, raised cheeks, mouth opening and lip corners that are pulled to the side.

The researchers found that when the Turkish song recording was playing, infants remained calm for about nine minutes. When the baby-talk speech recording was on, however, infants only stayed calmed for a little over four minutes. For the adult-directed recording, the infants stayed calm for just under four minutes. The researchers carried out the same experiment with another group of healthy infants using French recordings and found the similar results.

"Our findings leave little doubt about the efficacy of singing nursery rhymes for maintaining infants' composure for extended periods," Peretz said. "Even in the relatively sterile environment of the testing room-black walls, dim illumination, no toys, and no human visual or tactile stimulation--the sound of a woman singing prolonged infants' positive or neutral states and inhibited distress."

The researchers noted that their findings could be helpful for at-risk mothers who might feel overwhelmed when their babies are in distress.

"Although infant distress signals typically prompt parental comforting interventions, they induce frustration and anger in some at-risk parents, leading to insensitive responding and, in the worst cases, to infant neglect or abuse," Peretz said. "At-risk parents within the purview of social service agencies could be encouraged to play vocal music to infants and, better still, to sing to them."

The study was published in the journal, Infancy.

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