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Laura K Cirelli, Christina Spinelli, Sylvie Nozararadan, and Laure J Trainor (2016)

Measuring Neural Entrainment to Beat and Meter in Infants: Effects of Music Background

Frontiers in Neuroscience, 10:229.

Caregivers often engage in musical interactions with their infants. For example, parents across cultures sing lullabies and playsongs to their infants from birth. Behavioral studies indicate that infants not only extract beat information, but also group these beats into metrical hierarchies by as early as 6 months of age. However, it is not known how this is accomplished in the infant brain. An EEG frequency-tagging approach has been used successfully with adults to measure neural entrainment to auditory rhythms. The current study is the first to use this technique with infants in order to investigate how infants’ brains encode rhythms. Furthermore, we examine how infant and parent music background is associated with individual differences in rhythm encoding. In Experiment 1, EEG was recorded while 7-month-old infants listened to an ambiguous rhythmic pattern that could be perceived to be in two different meters. In Experiment 2, EEG was recorded while 15-month-old infants listened to a rhythmic pattern with an unambiguous meter. In both age groups, information about music background (parent music training, infant music classes, hours of music listening) was collected. Both age groups showed clear EEG responses frequency-locked to the rhythms, at frequencies corresponding to both beat and meter. For the younger infants (Experiment 1), the amplitudes at duple meter frequencies were selectively enhanced for infants enrolled in music classes compared to those who had not engaged in such classes. For the older infants (Experiment 2), amplitudes at beat and meter frequencies were larger for infants with musically-trained compared to musically-untrained parents. These results suggest that the frequency-tagging method is sensitive to individual differences in beat and meter processing in infancy and could be used to track developmental changes. 

EEG, neural entrainment, beat perception, meter