Social Functions of Music in Infancy

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Social Functions of Music in Infancy

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Title: Social Functions of Music in Infancy
Author: Mehr, Samuel A. ORCID  0000-0002-9400-7718
Citation: Mehr, Samuel A. 2017. Social Functions of Music in Infancy. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
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Abstract: I explore music's early role in social cognition, testing the hypothesis that infants interpret singing as a social signal. Over six experiments, I examine 5- and 11-month-old infants' social responses to new people who sing familiar or unfamiliar songs to them. I manipulate song familiarity with three training methods: infants learn songs from a parent; from a musical toy; or from an unfamiliar adult who sings first in person and subsequently via video chat. I use two main outcome measures: a test of visual preference for the singer of a familiar song; and, in older infants, a more explicitly social test of selective reaching for objects associated with and endorsed by novel individuals. I also test infants' memory for the songs they hear in these studies. I find that infants garner social information from the songs they hear, which they subsequently act upon in the context of social interaction; when songs are not learned in a social context, infants recall them in great detail after long delays. These results demonstrate a social function of music in early development. Music is not just pleasurable noise: it is a member of a class of behaviors, including language, accent, and food preference, that reliably inform infants' social behavior.
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