Babies Like Christmas Music

Babies like Christmas music
A study has found that Christmas music, more so than other kinds, has a calming effect on babies. Daycare workers have long noticed how babies do not cry as much when Christmas music is played in the background. Other styles they play, such as soft rock or classical, do not have the same effect.

From Scripps Howard News Service:

The holiday season is in full swing and it is giving nurses who work with newborns something to be thankful for. Their rows of usually fussy infants have been seduced into a collective calm, thanks to the tunes of Christmas.

“They are usually pretty cranky,” said Amanda Ring, a women and children’s health nurse at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Cornell Medical Center. “But when we put Christmas music on, they stop crying. It’s amazing.”

Studies have shown that babies are born with the ability to perceive and process basic musical sounds and patterns, often with a preference for those in major keys. It just so happens that most holiday music is written and performed in such keys.

“Because the way that our brains are wired, you don’t need to have a fully developed frontal cortex to be affected by music,” said Suzanne Hanser, chair of music therapy at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Even in adults, soothing music can be used to initiate a state of relaxed awareness in the brain, studies show. The music triggers neural impulses which themselves cause nervous system reactions that produce relaxation in muscle tone, brain wave frequency, and other reflexes. “It’s not surprising that newborns would feel soothed by almost any music,” Hanser said.

But Ring said the infants are noticeably more content when holiday music is played compared to the usual classical or soft-rock music that flows from the overhead speakers in the hospital’s two nurseries.

“It’s a really busy nursery,” Ring said. “There can be up to 22 babies in one nursery at a time and it’s rarely quiet for more than 10 minutes. But with the Christmas music on, it can stay quiet for more than an hour and a half.”

Christmas-music expert William Studwell, professor emeritus at Northern Illinois University, said the variety of yuletide tunes also proves interesting to babies. “Slow music and classical music, such as Yanni, would not shake up the children, but it’s boring,” Studwell said. “Christmas music has such a different body. Some are secular, some are sacred, some are fast, and some are slow.”

Yes, the image of 22 babies warehoused in a day care center is pretty disturbing. I also wonder how the babies can distinguish between “secular” and “sacred.”

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.