Thursday, January 07, 2010

Tom Selleck was right!

Remember that scene in Three Men and a Baby, when Tom Selleck's character is reading an article about boxing to the little baby? Steve Gutenberg is horrified, but Tom says that it doesn't matter what the words are, just the tone matters. Well, a new study in Infant Behavioral Development shows that the tone does indeed matter. CD Tsang and NJ Conrad of the University of Western Ontario did a study on infants' pitch preferences in lullabies and and playsongs. The babies preferred low-pitched lullabies and high-pitched playsongs, showing that tone is indeed the most important communication of emotion. Tom. Selleck. is. a. genius.

CD Tsang and NJ Conrad, "Does the message matter? The Effect of song type on infants' pitch preferences for lullabies and playsongs," Infant Behavioral Development, Dec 2009.


Terminal Degree said...

Heck, yeah.

When I was a baby, my dad (a middle school music teacher at the time) used to sing to me a lot. He found that tunes with high pitches, wide ranges, and memorable melodies kept me awake. In other words, lullabies weren't an option if he wanted to get the baby to sleep.

Instead, he hummed a series of descending major and minor thirds, slowly and calmly. I'd fall asleep within minutes.

He taught this musical trick to my mom, who used it to me all the time. She found that she could hold *any* fussy baby and soothe it to sleep within minutes.

Yep, babies get tone.

Shannon said...

This is a concept I learned in residency. The child psych people discuss it as do the developmental folk. I like to think of it as another of those perfect little 'coincidences' that God sets up. Babies respond to higher pitched, singsongy voices and -guess what- that's what parents do without thinking.
Also I'm sure you've heard that we are all born with unlimited capacity for languages. However, after 'studying' our parents' voices, tonal representations, consonant usage, etc., we begin to focus on the things we hear repeatedly and lose the ability for the rest. So following that logic, we all have the capacity for perfect pitch, (think Cantonese) we just don't use it so we lose it.
As a tangent, there is a fascinating episode of RadioLab discussing tone, speech, and music connections. I'll look up the link.