Babies tune in to foreign beats
A baby cannot talk, sing or dance at six months. But it has got rhythm. Researchers report today that at six months, babies can detect subtle variations in complex rhythmic patterns of Balkan folk dance tunes. Adult migrants from Macedonia or the Bulgarian mountains can tell the difference. Western adults cannot.
Erin Hannon, of Cornell University and a colleague at the University of Toronto report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that a seemingly innate musical awareness in infants seemed to falter as the months went by, and the babies heard more Britney Spears, Charlotte Church and the Crazy Frog.
"By the time the babies are 12-months-old, they much more closely resemble adults who are more sensitive to the rhythms in their own culture's music than to rhythms in a foreign musical culture," she said.
They found infants make sense of language, tell faces, and can distinguish Vivaldi played forwards or backwards.
The study confirms a growing suspicion that babies begin life with an open mind, but start to develop personal tastes in the first year of life.
The scientists counted the seconds a baby would stare at a cartoon. The same cartoon was paired with two different song versions. One kept the basic rhythm; the other disrupted it. "If the infants showed a greater interest in one ... it's because they detected a difference," Dr Hannon said
"Young infants, who have much less experience listening to music, lack these perceptual biases and respond to rhythmic structures both familiar and foreign."