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Infant Rhythm

February 26, 2009

Newborn babies can sense when a musical rhythm goes off the beat.


Inborn musicality…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

[SFX: rhythm bed from the experiment]
When you listen to this drum track, you can sense when it skips a beat…
[beat interruption]
… like right there. Now, Hungarian and Dutch researchers have discovered that newborn babies can too. Henkjan Honing of the University of Amsterdam says that whenever the drums skipped the downbeat, the infants’ brainwaves changed.

HENKJAN HONING (University of Amsterdam):
And you see that they have this measure, an indication of surprise, that they expected something that didn’t happen, so it violates their expectation…

HIRSHON: (note: you’re following an upcut)
… But, when the drums skipped other, less essential accents, there was no such response. Since adults’ brains react in the same way, the findings suggest that we’re born with some kind of ability to detect a musical beat. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.