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Babies Prefer Live Music to Recorded Soundtracks, Study Says

A new study suggests that when babies attend a live performance, they are more engaged than if they were watching a recording and more likely to develop important social skills.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Associate Editor
Published August 23, 2023
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Image: Marina Demidiuk | Shutterstock

If you are looking for something new to do with baby a live music performance may be just the thing!

A new study by the University of Toronto suggests that babies feel the impact of being at a live show and get excited about being a part of a crowd, much like adults do. This group experience can provide big benefits when it comes to baby’s social development.

To understand how babies experience live versus recorded music differently, researchers examined 120 babies ages six to 14 months as they watched a children’s opera. Sixty-one of the babies watched in person at a concert hall, while the other 59 watched a recorded version broadcast at the same size, distance and volume as the live version.

Researchers meticulously measured a variety of responses through heart monitors and tablets mounted on the backs of concert seats. Later, student research assistants combed through the footage to note when babies looked at the stage and when they looked away.

The live performance captured the babies’ attention for 72 percent of the time while the recording only held their attention for 54 percent of the time. The live show also had infants continuously watching for longer bouts of time.

Not only did babies pay more attention to the live performance, but their heart rates synchronized, and they were significantly more engaged than babies who watched an identical recording of the show. There were moments during the live performance when a calm would sweep over the babies and other times when a change in pitch or vocal riff would excite them all.

So why is a live experience so much more engaging and enjoyable for babies? Co-author of the study Laura Cirelli believes it has ties to our innate being. “If there’s something happening that we collectively are engaging with, we’re also connecting with each other. It speaks to the shared experience,” Cirelli, said in a University of Toronto press release. “The implication is that this is not necessarily specific to this one performance. If there’s these moments that capture us, then we are being captured together.”

This feeling of togetherness is important when it comes to baby’s fast-moving social development and forming bonds with others. Cirelli points to recent research that found babies are more likely to socialize with someone after hearing them sing a familiar song or dancing to music with them, and that infants have strong emotional reactions to music and song even before their first birthday.

“We consistently find that music can be a highly social and emotional context within which infants can foster connections to their caregivers, other family members and even new acquaintances,” Cirelli notes. “This audience study shows that even in a community context, infants are engaging with the music and connecting to their fellow audience members."

Want to experience a show with your little one? Check out your local children’s theatre, opera or symphony for baby or family-friendly shows.

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