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Published February 27, 2018

Research aims to explore the relationship between exposure to music and learning

“There are glimpses — soft evidence — that music in the early educational environment may lead to more appreciation of music as adults,” said Elisabeth Etopio, clinical assistant professor from the Department of Learning and Instruction (LAI). “And it may trigger processes related to other learning.”

Etopio, along with department colleague Richard Lamb, associate professor, and LAI doctoral student Mandy Seccia are exploring infants’ ability to recognize and prefer certain types of music to further understand the relationship between musical exposure and cognitive processes.

The researchers are using a functional near-infrared spectroscopy, a type of neuro imaging device, to confirm the phenomenon that music, in varied tonalities and meters, can facilitate pattern-recognition processes in infants as young as 7 months.  

“Providing infants with the ability to listen and engage with varied types of music may potentially facilitate the use of their cognitive processes that are active when recognizing different patterns in their environment,” said Etopio.

“The team found that a baby does in fact care about what is being sung to him,” said Seccia. Through these individual preferences of music, researchers can now observe infants’ behavior and reactions to music and develop musical experiences to enhance their learning, she said.

 “One of the things that this research provides is the ability to measure the impact of musical opportunity on other learning outcomes,” said Lamb. “So what we’re doing is attempting to show the place and role of music and art in the schools as a means to promote music learning in children and perhaps enhance cognitive tools such as critical thinking and pattern recognition.”

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