Babies Use Rhythms to Adapt to Their Culture, Study Hints

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Trehub said adults can likewise learn to discern the complexities of foreign rhythms through interactive learning, such as dance classes. When musicians miss a beat, dancers would take note.

Cultural Adaptation

Erin Hannon, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, co-authored both studies. She says the findings demonstrate how babies are adapting to their cultures in order to be more efficient animals.

"Adults become less sensitive to foreign rhythms because they become more efficient at processing familiar rhythmic structure of their own culture—this is natural and adaptive," Hannon said in a press statement.

Trehub, the University of Toronto psychologist, said babies are learning only what's relevant in their environment, which allows them to optimally direct their attention. "You learn … what to pay attention to and what to ignore," she said.

But what if parents want their children to be musically diverse? Should parents expose kids to a wide variety of music from their earliest days?

Trehub said the implications of the findings for parenting are unclear.

It's possible, for example, that babies exposed to a wide variety of music or languages will learn a little bit of everything but not enough of what's relevant to thrive in their own culture.

"This [research] doesn't come with advice about what one should do. It really is just an observation of how babies learn and what they know," Trehub said.

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