A study found that babies enjoy live music just as much as adults—and that they respond to interactions with performers and being part of a crowd

Should we have concerts for babies? According to science, the answer might be yes. A new study found that babies enjoy live music just as much as grown-ups and that they respond to multiple different aspects of the performance, including interactions with performers and the social experience of being part of a crowd.

The study, from researchers at the University of Toronto, compared reactions from 120 infants who watched a children’s opera—61 of them in person and 59 over Zoom, with a meticulously broadcast version that was shown at the same size, distance, and volume as the live version. Still, the babies at the live performance were significantly more engaged.

“Their heart rates were speeding up and slowing down in a similar fashion to other babies watching the show,” said Laura Cirelli, assistant professor in the department of psychology at U of T Scarborough, one of the study’s co-authors. “Those babies were dealing with all these distractions in the concert hall, but still had these uninterrupted bursts of attention.”

The researchers’ findings suggest that babies feel the social effects of being in a crowd at a live performance just as much as adults do. Cirelli pointed to times during the performance when all the babies would calm at the same time, or when a change in pitch would get them all excited simultaneously.

“If there’s something happening that we collectively are engaging with, we’re also connecting with each other. It speaks to the shared experience,” she said. “The implication is that this is not necessarily specific to this one performance. If there are these moments that capture us, then we are being captured together.”

She also said this suggests that music may be more important to babies’ social and emotional development than we previously thought.

She added, “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. This audience study shows that even in a community context, infants are engaging with the music and connecting to their fellow audience members.”

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