Researchers have found that just like adults, newborn babies can detect music beats. The study also suggests that a rhythmic sensibility is essential for child development and lays the foundation for further language learning. The study, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), involved playing music to two- and three-day-old babies while they slept, and recording their responses.
Lead researcher, Istvan Winkler along with his team, measured the brain responses of the babies to a rock drum beat, by fitting self-adhesive ear-couplers and scalp electrodes to them. The babies elicited a sensory response every time the rhythm was broken. Winkler concluded, “Beat perception is there right from birth.”
The findings of the study are important because the ability to recognize beats may be the building blocks to allowing babies to communicate verbally later on. Beat induction may also help diagnose abnormal brain activity related to communication and speech problems early on, allowing for treatment to begin sooner.
Researchers continue to debate whether this cognitive ability in newborn babies is innate or learned during the first few months of life. Winkler believes that this trait is innate. However others believe that newborns learn the same by listening to the mothers’ heartbeats while in the womb.