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Wednesday, 24 March 2010

SubVersion Stop 85: Baby steps?

Psychologists at the University of York have reported in the March 15th edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they have performed studies that are suggesting that babies may be born with a hard-wired predisposition to move rhythmically in response to music.

Dr Marcel Zentner says that children between five months and two years respond to the beat rather than the melody of a song. Another interesting finding is that the better the children were able to synchronise their movements with the beat, the more they smiled. There are currently no universally-accepted theories as to why humans adore music, and it is a major unresolved issue in biology.

The main theory is that human ancestral individuals who could respond empathically to rhythmic beats, for example the heartbeat, would be more likely to select mates, and would be drive natural selection to trigger a happy response to rhythmic beats at a similar tempo to the heart (approximately 60 bpm). An opposing theory is that an emotional response to music evolved as a response to some other stimulus, but it also happens to be relevant for music processsing.

The infants in the study listened to a variety of music from around the world, including classical music, dance music and speech. Their spontaneous movements were recorded by 3D motion-capture, with software to analyse the extent to which the babies matched their movement to the music. It is well-known that humans also involuntarily adjust their heart rate to match a beat which is around 60 bpm, suggesting even more strongly that there is an evolutionary advantage to be aware of how fast your heart is beating.

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