Study: Dancing in Rhythm With Your Infant Encourages Pro-Social Behavior

Dancing to music is not just a fun way to unwind with your baby.Get ready to cut a rug. One researcher has found evidence that dancing in rhythm with infants encourages pro-social behavior.

Watching your baby react to music for the first time is one of the most beautiful moments in parenting. The first time my husband pulled out his guitar and played “Dublin Blues” for our seven-month-old baby, he was transfixed. Now that he’s a toddler, it’s fun to turn up the volume to my favorite tunes and jam with him.

But dancing to music is not just a fun way to unwind with your baby. One researcher has found evidence that moving to music can help babies make interpersonal connections.

Related: Exposing Infants to Music is Critical for Speech Development

Laura Cirelli, a post-doctoral fellow at the Infant and Child Studies Center at the University of Toronto, has been researching what makes children behave in a pro-social way, or what makes them do things that help others and help the group. For her study, she strapped 14-month-old babies into carriers worn by her assistants and then would turn on some music, such as “Twist and Shout” by the Beatles.

The babies faced outward, so they could see an adult partner. The carrier and the partner would bounce in rhythm or out of sync with one another. Once the music stopped, the babies were taken out of the carrier to play with their partner.

The partner would begin to play, but they would drop a ball or a marker on purpose, in order to initiate a help response from the baby. Cirelli found that babies who bounced in sync with their partner were more likely to volunteer to help than babies who were bounced out of sync with their partner.

As a control group, Cirelli tried the same experiment with nature sounds, such as rushing water. Even though babies with a synchronized partner were still more likely to be helpful, the babies exhibited more distress and 40 percent of the babies had to be taken out of the carriers when listening to the nature sounds. Cirelli noted that the infants were much happier overall with the music in the background.

Related: Why My Kids Are Learning to Play Rock Music

Moving in sync without music still encouraged pro-social behavior, but it was the combination of music and bouncing in rhythm with their partner that made babies happy and helped them forge a connection with their partner.

Past studies have shown the same results for adults. When people move together in synchrony, they feel more socially connected and are more likely to exhibit altruistic behavior.

But music appears to be that special ingredient. “Music is a tool that we can use to bring people together, and this starts in infancy,” Cirelli explains.

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