Thursday, December 4, 2008

The power of lullaby?

News this week that mothers are lulling babies to sleep with pop songs rather than traditional lullabies. We know that even very young babies have a capacity to recognise melody, and that some of this learning takes place even before birth. Music provides a source of organised perceptual stimuli that probably helps to shape processes of synapse formation, neural pruning and cortical differentiation from pretty much as soon as hearing is established in the second trimester. That is not the same as saying that music makes you smarter. A parent can value music as an enriching force in their child's environment without being committed to believing in the Mozart Effect

Mozart has become established as a leading entertainer of western children ever since researchers at the University of California, Irvine, reported that listening to his Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major improved college students’ spatial reasoning. In a perhaps reckless effort to dramatize their findings for a lay audience, the UCI researchers translated the improvement into notional IQ scores, leading to the inevitable tabloid headline that listening to Mozart adds eight or nine points to your IQ. Although the intelligence boost was short-lived, the idea took a grip. Most bizarrely, people took the IQ point literally, and assumed that it must apply to babies and children too. An industry grew up, relieving parents of their dollars in return for Mozart CDs and videos, and even stethoscopic devices delivering interuterine muzak: Amadeus piped in to the womb. In fact, the Mozart Effect has been almost entirely debunked by subsequent studies, and there is not a shred of evidence that listening to the stuff, either in the womb or in the nursery, makes children any brighter.

One interesting point here, though, is that the researchers responsible for the original Mozart Effect findings hypothesised that the effect would be specific to Mozart's music, or music very like it. Other kinds of music, such as pop, were not supposed to have the same magical powers. It seems that the parents in this survey disagree. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents thought that pop songs were better than traditional lullabies. The presence of Dizzee Rascal in the top 20 might be a surprise, but some of these tunes (stand up Whitney Houston and Bryan Adams) are already famous for their soporific properties. My own tune of choice, when the children were babies, was that old Mancini classic, Moon River. What do readers of this blog find works with their little ones? And what explanations do you have for the power of lullaby?

1 comment:

  1. Charles FernyhoughDecember 9, 2008 at 7:39 AM

    Thanks, Sass E-mum. I'm sure this is right. We know that babies learn the rhythmic properties of their mothers' voices in the womb, so hearing more of these familiar rhythms is likely to be reassuring. A familiar voice is probably best, and slower is probably better. Has anyone had a different experience to that?