People who spend time with young children know firsthand the power of music.
It’s easy entertainment.
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And any teacher who works in early childhood will tell you that singing can yield amazing results. “If we didn’t sing the cleanup song, I don’t think anything would have gotten cleaned up,” says Laura Cirelli, who worked as an assistant at a day care center in the late 2000s.
But there may be other ways — surprising ways — in which music plays a role in raising a human.
That’s a question that Cirelli is pursuing in her postdoctoral research in early childhood development at the University of Toronto, Mississauga.
“I find babies are so impressive. We can’t really ask them what they’re thinking. We have to come up with clever ways of figuring out what’s going on in their little brains,” she says.
One thing Cirelli is curious about: What makes young children behave in a pro-social way — taking actions that help others and benefit the group?
She invited a bunch of parents to bring their toddlers into her lab.
“We were specifically testing 14-month-old babies,” she says. “So they’re walking, not yet talking.”
These 14-month-olds said bye-bye to Mommy and Daddy and were then strapped into front-facing baby carriers worn by assistants in the study. The researchers turned on some music. Usually it was “Twist and Shout.”