VSL:SCIENCE // When babies get the blues

If you’ve seen 7-month-old babies bouncing around to Beatles songs, you already know that infants go for upbeat tunes. But when do babies learn to recognize and appreciate melancholy melodies? About two months later, according to Brigham Young University psychologist Ross Flum.

Flum showed dozens of 3-to-9-month-old babies a video of male and female actors with neutral facial expressions. At the same time, he played happy songs, and sad ones, through a set of nearby speakers. When the babies grew bored and looked away, Flum would change the music — sometimes to music of the same mood, sometimes to music of a different mood — to see whether the babies looked at the videos with renewed interest.

The 3-month-old babies didn’t notice the changes at all. The 5-month-olds had begun to notice shifts from sad to happy, but not happy to sad (this paralleled their low level of interest in sad faces). But the 9-month-olds noticed mood shifts in either direction. A taste for darker compositions is a sign of sophistication, it seems — but happy tunes are our first love.

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