According to the results of a small UK study, children recognize and prefer music they were exposed to in the womb for at least a year after they are born. Researcher Dr. Alexandra Lamont stated that while she found no evidence that just playing music to babies improved their intelligence, the results are exciting as they suggest that the developing brain is capable of storing and recovering memories over a long period of time.
Hepper added, ``At a more general level, the results indicate that environmental factors experienced by the fetus may have a long-term influence on its development. And they support the growing realization that the prenatal period is more important than previously thought.''
Birth of Musical Protégés? How Music Heard in the Womb is Remembered by the Child
A study carried out at the University of Leicester, shown on BBC's Child Of Our Time - reveals for the first time that babies remember sounds they heard in the womb and recognise them well into later life.
The study, by Dr Alexandra Lamont from the Music Research Group at the University's School of Psychology, demonstrates how one-year-old babies recognise music they were exposed to up to three months before birth.
The discovery explodes the theory that babies can only remember things for a month or two and suggests that memory could last a great deal longer than that.
This provides important new evidence for the influence of nurture in early child development, said Dr Lamont, who is a lecturer in psychology.
She said: We know that the foetus in the womb is able to hear fully only 20 weeks after conception. Now we have discovered that babies can remember and prefer music that they heard before they were born over 12 months later.
The Child Of Our Time study involved a small group of mothers playing a single piece of music to their babies for the last three months before birth.
Dr Lamont said the music was chosen by the mother so all babies heard different pieces of music while still in the womb. These included classical (opera, Mozart and Vivaldi), world (Spirits of Nature), reggae (UB40, Ken Boothe) and pop (Five).
Over 12 months later, eleven of the babies were tested and showed a significant preference for these pieces of music compared with very similar pieces of music they had not heard before.
After the babies were a year old, they heard the pre-natal music and other music that was matched for style, key, pace and loudness. For example, a baby who was exposed to UB40's Many Rivers to Cross before birth heard this piece with another slow reggae track, Freddie McGregor's Stop Lovin' You.
The babies' preference is shown by the amount of time they spend looking towards the source of the music. Their attention is attracted by flashing disco lights, and the music then plays from a loudspeaker next to the light. When they stop looking in a particular direction, the music stops. The babies quickly learn the association between their looks and the amount of music they get to hear.
None of these babies had been exposed to the pre-natal music in the intervening period (i.e. from birth to first birthday). Dr Lamont says: This means that the preference found here is based on very long term memory rather than on a memory which is constantly reactivated by later exposure.
A control group of 11 babies tested with the same pieces of music show no preference for a particular piece this means there is nothing about the music itself which is responsible for the preferences found in the pre-natal group.
Dr Lamont said: This small-scale study suggests that deliberate and extended pre-natal exposure to music sets up a very long-term memory trace for a particular piece of music, and that this is recognised and preferred over 12 months later.
The style of the music is not important - the babies recognise UB40 just as much as they do Mozart. But the pace of the music seems to be influential - the babies with faster music like Five's If Ya Gettin' Down or the start of Vivaldi's Four Seasons show stronger preferences than the babies with slower music like Mozart's Adagio for Wind.
This relates to other findings by Dr Lamont that babies have developed clear preferences for faster and more exciting music by the age of 12 months.
LITERACY | musical memory, music intelligence
However, these babies' outstanding musical memories are not at all related to their intelligence. Dr Lamont emphasised that there is no evidence here that playing classical music to babies helps make their brains develop - the babies perform just as well with pop or reggae music, and the same high levels of musical memory are found in babies from families where IQ levels differ enormously.
Dr Lamont will be exploring the longer-term implications of these memory skills over the coming years with the Child Of Our Time babies, to find out how musical taste changes over time and how early music exposure relates to the children's involvement in musical activities later in life.
Sandra Trehub is one of the authors of a noted study on musically untutored babies, showing that they prefer harmony to dissonance. At a more complex level, this involves documenting infants' and young children's skill in discriminating and remembering realistic sound patterns such as melodies. In addition to the research on auditory perception, I conduct other research on singing to infants in the course of care-giving, an activity that seems to be universal. This research has a field component as well as a laboratory component, the field work involving the collection of samples of singing from various national and ethnic groups locally and abroad. One goal of this work is to document the similarities and differences in the nature of singing to infants across different languages and cultures. Another is to determine the effect of such singing on infant listeners.
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Dr Unnati Chavda
(Promoting pregnancy wellness)