Study: Singing lullabies can help you sync with your infant

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Music truly helps your bond with your baby! Find out how, exactly.

Singing a soothing lullaby to your baby is perhaps one of the most natural responses you may have to calm your little one. But did you know about the importance of singing to babies? What happens between you and your little one when you sing that lullaby?

Importance of singing to babies: how music and rhythm impacts our brain

Scientists are studying the way we process music. They are looking at a variety of situations, from mother-child interactions to live concerts.

The advancement of technology, such as portable electroencephalography (EEG) and electrophysiology set-up, supports cognitive neuroscientists in such studies. It helps them gain deeper insights about perception, multi-sensory integration, and social coordination. 

Jessica Grahn of the University of Western Ontario is the co-author of a study about live music and brain rhythms. She also chaired the Cognitive Neuroscience Society’s session on musical rhythm. 

Speaking about the impact of music and rhythm on human beings, she says: “Music and rhythm are human universals but do not appear to be shared by most other species. Rhythm in particular is mysterious. We are sensitive to the beat — that steady, underlying pulse that we tap our foot or bob our head to — from early in life. But, even after decades of trying, beat-tracking algorithms can’t approach anything like the automaticity and flexibility that humans show to feel the beat across different speeds, genres, and instruments.”

Importance of singing to babies: the mother-child connection

importance of singing to babies

Importance of singing to babies: strengthening the mother-child connection | Image: file image

Laura Cirelli of the University of Toronto Mississauga recently presented her work on maternal singing at the 25th meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society (CNS) in Boston.

She explains that there can be vast behavioural implications of music. Apart from that, many complex processes take place in the brain to make that possible. She says: “Infant brains must be able to track auditory events in a predictive manner to make sense of music.”

How Laura Cirelli started her work about the importance of singing to babies

As an undergraduate student, Laura worked at a daycare centre during one summer. When she was at a playground, a two-year-old asked her for help to climb down the slide. She observed that after the other toddlers saw this, they looked at each other. And then all of them lined up excitedly, awaiting their turn. 

That incident led Laura to discover more about how social behaviour develops in children at a very young age. Being a piano player and ballerina herself, she felt that music was the best way to get an insight about the social brain. 

Laura Cirelli and her colleagues researched about how mothers change the way they sing for their little ones. Depending upon what they would like to achieve, they keep the tune soothing or playful. 

Mums who participated in this research sang the rhyme “Twinkle Twinkle  Little Star” to their little ones. The babies were sitting in a high chair and faced the mums. The mothers repeatedly sang the rhyme, but alternated between singing it playfully or in a soothing way. 

Importance of singing to babies: What did the research reveal?

The arousal response in babies and mums was also tracked simultaneously. This was measured through skin conductance and behaviour. So, as Cirelli explains this, when mums are excited or stressed, their arousal levels increase. Whereas when they are calm, it decreases. 

importance of singing to babies

Importance of singing to babies: improving bonding | Image: file image

Here are a few things that researchers noted during this experiment.

  • During playful singing, the arousal level of mums was high when compared to the soothing singing.
  • The decrease in arousal was coordinated for mums and babies as the songs got more and more soothing. 
  • When the mums were singing playfully, the arousal level of babies was stable. The little ones also displayed attention to the mother and an increase in positive emotions during playful singing. 

According to Cirelli, these findings are an indication of the physiological and behavioural changes by mum and baby to different song styles.

In another study about toddlers, Laura Cirelli found out that bouncing in synchronicity connected the participants in a unique way.

Fourteen-month-old babies bounced with unfamiliar adults to music in a synchronous manner and in an asynchronous manner. The babies who moved synchronously helped their experiment partner more when they were told to retrieve dropped objects. 

As Cirelli puts it, music is a tool that we can use to bring people together, and this starts in infancy. Make most of this and sing lullabies to your little one to bond with them more strongly. 


Source: Cognitive Neuroscience SocietyScience Daily

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Written by

Prutha Soman