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Are We Human or Are We Dancer?

Infants interact with their mothers through music from the first months of their lives (Fridman, 1980). The main feature of these interactions is a well-sustained rhythm (Schogler, 2000). According to a recent study by Zentner and Eerola (2010) published in PNAS infants respond to tempo and rhythm more than other rhythmical sounds (like speech). Here’s the abstract of the paper:

Humans have a unique ability to coordinate their motor movements
to an external auditory stimulus, as in music-induced foot tapping or
dancing. This behaviour currently engages the attention of scholars
across a number of disciplines. However, very little is known about
its earliest manifestations. The aim of the current research was to
examine whether preverbal infants engage in rhythmic behaviour to
music. To this end, we carried out two experiments in which we
tested 120 infants (aged 5–24 months). Infants were exposed to
various excerpts of musical and rhythmic stimuli, including isochronous
drumbeats. Control stimuli consisted of adult- and infant-directed
speech. Infants’ rhythmic movements were assessed by multiple
methods involving manual coding from video excerpts and innovative
3D motion-capture technology. The results show that (i) infants
engage in significantly more rhythmic movement to music and other
rhythmically regular sounds than to speech; (ii) infants exhibit
tempo flexibility to some extent (e.g., faster auditory tempo is associated
with faster movement tempo); and (iii) the degree of rhythmic
coordination with music is positively related to displays of
positive affect. The findings are suggestive of a predisposition for
rhythmic movement in response to music and other metrically
regular sounds.

You can read the rest here.


Zentner, M. and Eerola, T. (2010). Rhythmic engagement with music in infancy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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