Infant music perception: domain-general or domain-specific mechanisms?

Cognition. 2006 May;100(1):73-99. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2005.11.006. Epub 2005 Dec 27.


We review the literature on infants' perception of pitch and temporal patterns, relating it to comparable research with human adult and non-human listeners. Although there are parallels in relative pitch processing across age and species, there are notable differences. Infants accomplish such tasks with ease, but non-human listeners require extensive training to achieve very modest levels of performance. In general, human listeners process auditory sequences in a holistic manner, and non-human listeners focus on absolute aspects of individual tones. Temporal grouping processes and categorization on the basis of rhythm are evident in non-human listeners and in human infants and adults. Although synchronization to sound patterns is thought to be uniquely human, tapping to music, synchronous firefly flashing, and other cyclic behaviors can be described by similar mathematical principles. We conclude that infants' music perception skills are a product of general perceptual mechanisms that are neither music- nor species-specific. Along with general-purpose mechanisms for the perceptual foundations of music, we suggest unique motivational mechanisms that can account for the perpetuation of musical behavior in all human societies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Auditory Perception* / physiology
  • Child Development*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Music / psychology*
  • Pitch Perception
  • Psychology, Child*
  • Time Perception