- In the study, healthy babies listened to recordings of baby talk, adult-directed speech, and 'play' songs in Turkish, so that they were unfamiliar
- University of Montreal researchers played the recordings until the infants displayed the 'cry face', which is the most common sign of distress
- When listening to songs, babies remained calm for around 9 minutes
- For baby talk and adult speech it was roughly only half that long
Researchers found that infants remained relaxed for twice as long when listening to a song – even it was unfamiliar - as they did when listening to speech.
The study shows babies get 'carried away' by music, suggesting they have the mental capacity to be enthralled by it like adults.
Professor Isabelle Peretz, from the University of Montreal said: 'Many studies have looked at how singing and speech affect infants' attention, but we wanted to know how they affect a baby's emotional self-control.
'Emotional self-control is obviously not developed in infants, and we believe singing helps babies and children develop this capacity.'
The team of psychologists said the findings are important because mothers, and particularly Western mothers, tend to speak much more often than they sing to their children, 'missing out on the emotion-regulatory properties of singing'.
They added that singing could reduce feelings of frustration felt by some parents.
'Although infant distress signals typically prompt parental comforting interventions, they induce frustration and anger in some at-risk parents, leading to insensitive responding and, in the worst cases, to infant neglect or abuse,' Professor Peretz said.
For the study, 30 healthy babies aged between six and nine months listened to recordings of baby talk, adult-directed speech, and 'play' songs in Turkish, so that they were unfamiliar.The researchers played the recordings until the infants displayed the 'cry face' – lowered brows, lip corners pulled to the side, mouth open and raised cheeks – which is a baby's most common facial expression of distress.
Mariève Corbeil, lead author of the study which was published in the journal Infancy said: 'When listening to the Turkish song, babies remained calm for an average duration of approximately nine minutes.
'For speech, it was roughly only half as long, regardless of whether it was baby-talk or not.
'Baby-talk kept them calm for just over four minutes on average; for adult-directed speech, it was just under four minutes.
'The lack of significant distinction between the two types of speech came as a surprise to us.'
The researchers then tested their findings by exposing a different set of infants to recordings of mothers singing songs in a familiar language – French - and found the same effect.
Professor Peretz added: 'Our findings leave little doubt about the efficacy of singing nursery rhymes for maintaining infants' composure for extended periods.
'Even in the relatively sterile environment of the testing room – black walls, dim illumination, no toys, and no human visual or tactile stimulation – the sound of a woman singing prolonged infants' positive or neutral states and inhibited distress.'
The researchers explained humans are 'naturally enraptured by music,' and that in adults and older children, this is displayed in synchronising behaviour such as foot-tapping and head-nodding.
Although infants do not display the same behaviour, the results of the study suggest 'the babies did get carried away by the music', which suggests they do have the mental capacity to synchronise, the researchers said.