Does the message matter? The effect of song type on infants' pitch preferences for lullabies and playsongs

Infant Behav Dev. 2010 Feb;33(1):96-100. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2009.11.006. Epub 2009 Dec 28.


Preverbal infants are attuned to the different emotional messages contained in playsongs and lullabies. However, it is unclear which performance properties of singing underlie infants' perception of the communicative intent of infant-directed singing. Volkova, Trehub, and Schellenberg (2006) recently demonstrated that 6- and 7-month-old infants preferred low-pitched to high-pitched renditions of lullabies, suggesting that pitch may be one performance characteristic that conveys the communicative intent in infant-directed singing. In the current study, we evaluated 6- and 7-month-old infants' natural preferences for unfamiliar, expressive lullabies and playsongs as a function of pitch using a head-turn preference procedure. Infants preferred low-pitched over high-pitched versions of lullabies and high-pitched over low-pitched versions of playsongs. Results suggest that the overall pitch of a song is communicative to infants and that the affective nature of music can have an effect on infants' pitch preferences. That is, infants' preferences for pitch are context-dependent.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intention*
  • Language Development
  • Male
  • Music / psychology*
  • Pitch Perception*
  • Play and Playthings
  • Reference Values
  • Social Perception*