by Ishan Sinha
Infants exhibit significant sensitivity to music. Researchers at Stanford found that babies at a few months of age were able to detect slight variations on rhythmic pieces by monitoring their reactions to certain auditory stimuli. A more recent study, conducted by Olivia Landinig and Henkjan Honing, monitored electrical responses in the brains of two-day old infants as they listened to rock beats. Right after a traditional 4/4 beat was played, a deviant syncopated rhythm was inserted and electrical signals revealed that these infants were able to detect changes, lending evidence that there is a strong “natural” aspect to rhythmic cognition, as these infants had little to no interaction with music prior to testing.
It would be interesting to investigate the level of innate sensitivity to musical rhythm among infants- specifically cultural differences in the musical stimuli. The pieces utilized by Landinig and Honing were strictly from Western repertoire. This experiment would study American infants’ ability to detect changes in rhythm from non-Western music (with completely different rhythmic structure) as well. If infants display similar sensitivity to all types of musical rhythms, this would solidify the findings of Landinig and Honing, as this would provide evidence against the “nurture” aspect of rhythmic cognition. As music and language are commonly seen as similar neural phenomena- since both are processed in similar parts of the brain- one can hypothesize that since an infant has the capacity to learn any language, he or she would also have the capacity to comprehend musical rhythms of any sort. Such findings would have broader implications; if infants are shown to comprehend musical rhythm of any kind from day one, it would lend evidence to support the notion that music is a universal constant among humans, possibly more so than anything else.
For this experiment, a large random sample of newborn infants is necessary. They should be blocked into two separate groups: one that will listen to Western classical music and one an Indian raga. Electroencephalography (EEG) will be utilized to monitor localized brain activity. Infants in the Western classical music group will listen to a short excerpt from Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” five times; one of the five times, randomly, the excerpt will be played with a syncopated rhythm. The second group will listen to the opening excerpt from Ravi Shankar’s “Gat Kirwani,” a slower piece which employs very obvious non-Western rhythms, though is still quite tonal. Another version will be played for them which will have a subtle rhythmic deviation, again randomly one of the five times. This randomization in placement is utilized to account for the phenomena of pitch memory which infants have been shown to exhibit. Sharp contrasts, in the data collected from EEG, between the “normal” versus the “deviant” playing would lend evidence that infants were sensitive to this deviation; two-sided statistical analysis would be used for additional support.This difference would be compared to the other group to see if infants were more sensitive to one type of music as opposed to the other.
“Babies Tune in Early to Music, Psychologists Find.” Stanford News. 1 June 1993. Web. 16 Apr. 2010. .
This article was the main source of inspiration for the project; while I have not been able to find online versions of the actual publications, the final question posed on whether or not infants perceived Western rhythms as being different from non-Western rhythmic patterns is what made me think about doing this conditioning study.
Lerdahl, Fred and Ray Jackendof. A Generative Theory of Tonal Music. Cambridge: The MIT Press. 1996.
This article sets up the definition of musical meter that I hope to base the control and experimental groups off of. When I speak of syncopation, I am doing it by how Lerdahl and Jackendoff defined it; on the off-beat of a 4/4 metrical time signature.
Mampe, B., Friederici, A., Christophe, A., & Wermke, K. (2009). Newborns’ Cry Melody Is Shaped by Their Native Language. Current Biology DOI: 10.1016.
This article gave evidence to show that there is a severe cultural influence on the auditory processing of an infant. It was demonstrated that the conditioning that an infant goes through in its first few days of life affects their sound as they cry; this applies to my proposal because I believe that the infants will react similarly to different rhythms. The article suggests that they are conditioned by their surroundings, and I believe that this will carry over to their capacity to perceive certain rhythmic patterns as well.
Trehub, S. E. (2009). Music lessons from infants. In: Oxford handbook of music psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 229-234.
I came across this article after talking last semester with Prof. Quinn on the possible origins of cognitive ability when it came to music and if there were intrinsic properties to it. This article describes possible neurological theories behind an infants’ ability to perceive pieces of music, giving empirical evidence that there is an innate musical ability within humans. I hope to expand on this by finding how much and to what extent this innate ability exists.
Winkler, I., Háden, G., Ladinig, O., Sziller, I., & Honing, H. (in press). Newborn infants detect the beat in music. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0809035106
This article demonstrated an infant’s ability to perceive syncopated rhythms as being different from “regular” rhythms. This is the main source of prior evidence for my experiment, as it shows that infants can understand that certain rhythms are different within their own cultures; my proposal builds upon this phenomenon by investigating a cultural component.