Developmental Science

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Volume 21 Issue 2 (March 2018), Pages

Shared musical knowledge in 11‐month‐old infants


Five‐month‐old infants selectively attend to novel people who sing melodies originally learned from a parent, but not melodies learned from a musical toy or from an unfamiliar singing adult, suggesting that music conveys social information to infant listeners. Here, we test this interpretation further in older infants with a more direct measure of social preferences. We randomly assigned 64 11‐month‐old infants to 1–2 weeks’ exposure to one of two novel play songs that a parent either sang or produced by activating a recording inside a toy. Infants then viewed videos of two new people, each singing one song. When the people, now silent, each presented the infant with an object, infants in both conditions preferentially chose the object endorsed by the singer of the familiar song. Nevertheless, infants’ visual attention to that object was predicted by the degree of song exposure only for infants who learned from the singing of a parent. Eleven‐month‐olds thus garner social information from songs, whether learned from singing people or from social play with musical toys, but parental singing has distinctive effects on infants’ responses to new singers. Both findings support the hypothesis that infants endow music with social meaning. These findings raise questions concerning the types of music and behavioral contexts that elicit infants’ social responses to those who share music with them, and they support suggestions concerning the psychological functions of music both in contemporary environments and in the environments in which humans evolved.

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