What Types Of Music Do Infants Prefer?

30 Jun

Though previous research has suggested that beat detection (musical meter) is innate in infants,  research has yet to examine infant’s partiality towards musical style and genre.   Furthermore, research has not addressed whether differences between preferences correspond to universal musical components such as meter.  Meter is often closely associated with the recurrence of musical beats.  A professor of mine described meter as a “representational abstraction” that exists only on page to guide the performer or listener of cyclic,  reoccurring beats.  Meter is felt and counted, but provides no musical material than beyond the indicative performance.

Gaye Soley and Erin E. Hannon, employing a cross-cultural experimental design, examined meter preference among infants.  The study consisted of three experiments that compared Western, Balkan, and “Arbitrary” music.  In all three sections, American and Turkish infants were presented with music containing Western (simple, usually ratios of 1:1 or 2:1) and Balkan (complex, ratios of 3:2 as well as simple ratios of 1:1 and 2:1) , Arbitrary (complex ratios of 7:4, 8:5, 8:3) meters.  A musical example of each meter was presented concurrently alongside matching visual stimuli.  Infant gaze was measured towards the visual stimuli, demonstrating preference among the musical examples.

The predicted results were as follows: American infants would prefer music with Western music meters, while the Turkish infants, living in a “bi-metrical” music culture, would prefer both Western and Balkman meters equally.  The results favored these predictions, with American infants attending to the Western Music examples over the Balkan and the Turkish infants attending to both the Western and Balkan music.  It should be noted that in the trial of Balkan Vs. Arbitrary music, both groups of infants preferred the Balkan music.  Why American infants might favor the Balkan music in this instance is addressed by the researchers in the study’s conclusion.

These results contradict many studies that support an unbiased, culturally-detached model of infant preference and detection of meter.  As the infants in this study favored the popular music of their respective culture, the results leave us with questions concerning the development of cultural influences, and the degree to which culture plays a role in the differences of taste. The researchers also suggested an alternative hypothesis, stating that infants might choose less-complex meters as opposed to culturally relevant meters — this might account for why both groups of infants preferred the Balkan music over the Arbitrary music.  More research must be conducted to determine whether there is a development period for meter partiality, and to examine the symbiotic play of cultural and biological influences on infant partiality.

Soley, G., & Hannon, E.E. (2010). Infants prefer the musical meter of their own culture: a cross-cultural comparison. Developmental Psychology, 46(1), 286-292.

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