Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Findings

twist-and-shout

Twist and Shout, The Beatles. (Photo: Public Domain)

Bouncing to the Beatles Breeds Benevolent Babies

• August 12, 2014 • 4:00 AM

Twist and Shout, The Beatles. (Photo: Public Domain)

Canadian researchers find synchronized movement to music can inspire altruism in 14-month-old infants.

As part of our ongoing inquiry into the evolutionary origins of music, we’ve noted a line of research that links altruistic behavior with synchronized sounds. A study from England found eight- to 11-year-olds who made music together were also more compassionate than their peers. Another from Germany found four-year-olds who had sung and marched together were more likely to help one another pick up spilled marbles.

New Canadian research presents further evidence of this dynamic—and finds it applies at a much younger age. Even at 14 months, it seems, infants are more likely to offer help to an adult they’ve just met if their first encounter involved rhythmically swaying in sync.

The findings suggest moving together to music cements social bonds, and “may promote the very early development of altruistic behavior,” writes McMaster University researchers Laurel Trainor, Laura Cirelli, and Kathleen Einarson. Their study is published in the journal Developmental Science.

Music makes simultaneous swaying possible, and those shared (or mirrored) movements help us feel connected and inspire altruistic behavior.

In their first experiment, 48 infants (with a mean age of 14.2 months) listened to one of two versions of the bouncy Beatles’s version of “Twist and Shout.”

“The assistant held and bounced each infant to music while facing the experimenter,” the researchers write. “The infant watched the experimenter, who bounced (by bending at the knees) either in-synchrony or out-of-synchrony with the way the infant was being bounced.”

Approximately half the infants did so using the standard version of the song. The others heard, and were bounced to, a modified version in which the time interval between the beats varied randomly.

Afterwards, the assistant left the room, the infant was placed on a foam mat on the floor, and the experimenter—after capturing the baby’s attention—“accidentally” dropped several items, including clothespins and markers used for drawing. Researchers noted whether the infant picked up and handed the dropped object to the experimenter, and how quickly this occurred.

They found the infants were “significantly more likely to demonstrate spontaneous helping behavior” if they had just bounced in sync with the experimenter. Whether the beat was regular or unpredictable did not matter.

Importantly, this effect was only found for instantaneous assistance—that is, where the infant reacted to the dropped object within 10 seconds. “Spontaneous helping occurs quickly, and before the experimenter directs her attention toward the infant,” the researchers note, “which may reflect an early form of altruism.”

Twenty infants took part in a second, similar experience, in which, rather than mirroring one another, the experimenter and the assistant bouncing the babies reacted to the music in opposite ways. “When one person is at the lowest part of their bounce, the other is at the highest, and vice-versa,” the researchers write. “Both are still moving in the same manner and at the same tempo, but in an opposite-phase relationship.”

This experience produced a similar boost in helping behavior—one that was not found among the babies who were bounced out of sync to the music.

The researchers concede that “it is not clear that music is even necessary” to produce these positive results. “However,” they add, “the evenly spaced beats in music produce an especially effective context for encouraging synchronous movement among people.”

Music, in other words, makes simultaneous swaying possible, and those shared (or mirrored) movements help us feel connected and inspire altruistic behavior.

It all makes a solid case for music’s historical importance as a way of creating group solidarity, and inspiring mutually beneficial behavior within a society. It also leads one to wonder whether we’ve lost something now that we’re all listening to our favorite sub-genres via ear buds.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts


September 30 • 10:09 AM

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.


September 30 • 8:00 AM

The Psychology of Penmanship

Graphology: It’s all (probably) bunk.



September 30 • 6:00 AM

The Medium Is the Message, 50 Years Later

Five decades on, what can Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media tell us about today?


September 30 • 4:00 AM

Grad School’s Mental Health Problem

Navigating the emotional stress of doctoral programs in a down market.


September 29 • 1:21 PM

Conference Call: Free Will Conference


September 29 • 12:00 PM

How Copyright Law Protects Art From Criticism

A case for allowing the copyright on Gone With the Wind to expire.


September 29 • 10:00 AM

Should We Be Told Who Funds Political Attack Ads?

On the value of campaign finance disclosure.


September 29 • 8:00 AM

Searching for a Man Named Penis

A quest to track down a real Penis proves difficult.


September 29 • 6:00 AM

Why Do So Many People Watch HGTV?

The same reason so many people watch NCIS or Law and Order: It’s all a procedural.


September 29 • 4:00 AM

The Link Between Depression and Terrorism

A new study from the United Kingdom finds a connection between depression and radicalization.


September 26 • 4:00 PM

Fast Track to a Spill?

Oil pipeline projects across America are speeding forward without environmental review.


September 26 • 2:00 PM

Why Liberals Love the Disease Theory of Addiction, by a Liberal Who Hates It

The disease model is convenient to liberals because it spares them having to say negative things about poor communities. But this conception of addiction harms the very people we wish to help.


September 26 • 1:21 PM

Race, Trust, and Split-Second Judgments


September 26 • 9:47 AM

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what’s new and different more attractive.


September 26 • 8:00 AM

A Letter Becomes a Book Becomes a Play

Sarah Ruhl’s Dear Elizabeth: A Play in Letters From Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell and Back Again takes 900 pages of correspondence between the two poets and turns them into an on-stage performance.


September 26 • 7:00 AM

Sonic Hedgehog, DICER, and the Problem With Naming Genes

Wait, why is there a Pokemon gene?


September 26 • 6:00 AM

Sounds Like the Blues

At a music-licensing firm, any situation can become nostalgic, romantic, or adventurous, given the right background sounds.


September 26 • 5:00 AM

The Dark Side of Empathy

New research finds the much-lauded feeling of identification with another person’s emotions can lead to unwarranted aggressive behavior.



September 25 • 4:00 PM

Forging a New Path: Working to Build the Perfect Wildlife Corridor

When it comes to designing wildlife corridors, our most brilliant analytical minds are still no match for Mother Nature. But we’re getting there.


September 25 • 2:00 PM

Fashion as a Inescapable Institution

Like it or not, fashion is an institution because we can no longer feasibly make our own clothes.


September 25 • 12:00 PM

The Fake Birth Mothers Who Bilk Couples Out of Their Cash by Promising Future Babies

Another group that’s especially vulnerable to scams and fraud is that made up of those who are desperate to adopt a child.


September 25 • 10:03 AM

The Way We QuickType


Follow us


Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what's new and different more attractive.

School Counselors Do More Than You’d Think

Adding just one counselor to a school has an enormous impact on discipline and test scores, according to a new study.

How a Second Language Trains Your Brain for Math

Second languages strengthen the brain's executive control circuits, with benefits beyond words.

Would You Rather Go Blind or Lose Your Mind?

Americans consistently fear blindness, but how they compare it to other ailments varies across racial lines.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.