The Effect of Music on Infant Cognition

Project: Research project

Project Details


Human language is our most powerful cultural and cognitive tool, permitting us to share our thoughts with others in a fashion unparalleled in the animal kingdom. Yet its acquisition remains a matter of serious debate. We know that at birth, newborn infants prefer to listen to vocalizations of humans and, within months, tune their preferences increasingly to the sounds of their own native language [1]. This process of tuning insures that infants devote attention to relevant signals, homing in increasingly to those of their potential communicative partners. Crucially, however, acquiring language requires more than narrowing in on the vocalizations of its speakers. The power of human language derives from its links to cognition and meaning. Infants must identify the objects and events they encounter (e.g., my dog MAGIC), form categories that capture important commonalities among them (e.g., DOG) and learn words to describe them (e.g., “dog”). Although categorization, a building block of human cognition, is challenging even for recent AI approaches [2], human infants readily establish object categories and link them to language [3]. The current research proposal is designed to specify with greater precision the earliest foundations upon which this language-cognition link is established. We do so by forging a new collaboration, building upon two strong foundations: a) recent evidence (Waxman lab) documenting that long before infants begin to speak, they have already begun to link language and core cognitive capacities including object categorization, and b) recent evidence (Trainor lab) documenting the powerful communicative and emotional consequences of listening to music in infants. Here, we bring these foundations together, asking whether and how listening to music supports object categorization in infants from 4 to 6 months of age.
Effective start/end date6/1/196/30/23


  • Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (Waxman AGMT 12/4/20)


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