Musical intervention enhances infants' neural processing of temporal structure in music and speech

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 May 10;113(19):5212-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1603984113. Epub 2016 Apr 25.


Individuals with music training in early childhood show enhanced processing of musical sounds, an effect that generalizes to speech processing. However, the conclusions drawn from previous studies are limited due to the possible confounds of predisposition and other factors affecting musicians and nonmusicians. We used a randomized design to test the effects of a laboratory-controlled music intervention on young infants' neural processing of music and speech. Nine-month-old infants were randomly assigned to music (intervention) or play (control) activities for 12 sessions. The intervention targeted temporal structure learning using triple meter in music (e.g., waltz), which is difficult for infants, and it incorporated key characteristics of typical infant music classes to maximize learning (e.g., multimodal, social, and repetitive experiences). Controls had similar multimodal, social, repetitive play, but without music. Upon completion, infants' neural processing of temporal structure was tested in both music (tones in triple meter) and speech (foreign syllable structure). Infants' neural processing was quantified by the mismatch response (MMR) measured with a traditional oddball paradigm using magnetoencephalography (MEG). The intervention group exhibited significantly larger MMRs in response to music temporal structure violations in both auditory and prefrontal cortical regions. Identical results were obtained for temporal structure changes in speech. The intervention thus enhanced temporal structure processing not only in music, but also in speech, at 9 mo of age. We argue that the intervention enhanced infants' ability to extract temporal structure information and to predict future events in time, a skill affecting both music and speech processing.

Keywords: MEG; early experience; infants; music; speech.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Music*
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Time Perception / physiology*