Infants Hear More Spoken Language Than Music, New Study Finds

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Infants Hear More Spoken Language Than Music, New Study Finds

A groundbreaking study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington sheds light on the auditory experiences of infants during their crucial developmental stages. The study, published in the journal Developmental Science, compares the amount of music and speech that children hear in infancy and reveals intriguing insights into their early language exposure.

Infants Hear More Spoken Language Than Music, New Study Finds

Infants Hear More Spoken Language Than Music, New Study Finds

The Research Snapshot

Infants Hear More Spoken Language Than Music, New Study Finds

The study aimed to capture a snapshot of what happens in infants’ home environments regarding language and music exposure. Dr. Christina Zhao, the corresponding author and a research assistant professor of speech and hearing sciences at UW, emphasised the importance of understanding the balance between spoken language and music for optimal language development.

Infants Hear More Spoken Language Than Music, New Study Finds

Key Findings

Infants Hear More Spoken Language Than Music, New Study Finds

  1. Speech Dominates Over Music:
    • Researchers analysed daylong audio recordings collected from English-learning infants at ages 6, 10, 14, 18, and 24 months.
    • Infants consistently heard more spoken language than music.
    • The gap between speech and music exposure widened as babies grew older.
  2. Music as Ambient Background:
    • Surprisingly, the majority of music heard by infants was not specifically intended for them.
    • Ambient music, such as songs streaming in the background or playing on car radios, constituted a significant portion of the recorded music.
  3. Lab vs. Real-World Music Exposure:
    • The study diverged from previous lab-based interventions that used engaging, movement-oriented music sessions.
    • In those lab settings, music was intentionally paired with infant movement and caregiver interaction.
    • However, real-world music exposure lacked this intentional engagement.
  4. Enhancing Neural Responses:
    • Previous lab studies showed that music interventions enhanced infants’ neural responses to speech sounds.
    • The current study raises questions about how real-world music exposure impacts neural development.
  5. Quantitative vs. Qualitative Data:
    • Unlike relying solely on parental reports, this study used objective data from Language Environment Analysis (LENA) recording devices.
    • LENA captured infants’ natural sound environment for up to 16 hours per day over two days at each recording age.
  6. Crowdsourced Annotation:
    • Volunteers on the Zooniverse platform annotated the LENA data, identifying speech and music segments.
    • They determined whether the sounds came from in-person sources or electronic devices.
    • Additionally, they judged whether the speech or music was intended for a baby.

Future Directions

Infants Hear More Spoken Language Than Music, New Study Finds

  • Researchers plan to expand their dataset to include infants from different cultures and populations.
  • A follow-up study will examine LENA recordings from Latinx families.
  • Understanding when music moments occur in infants’ lives remains an open question.

Dr. Zhao summarised the study’s implications: “We’re curious to see whether music input independently contributes to certain aspects of development. While speech input is highly correlated with later language skills, our data show that speech and music input are not necessarily linked.”

Infants Hear More Spoken Language Than Music, New Study Finds

This groundbreaking research highlights the need for a holistic understanding of infants’ auditory environments, emphasising both spoken language and intentional music exposure. As parents and caregivers, we can play an active role in shaping our little ones’ language development through thoughtful interactions and purposeful music choices.

Infants Hear More Spoken Language Than Music, New Study Finds

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