Enhanced music sensitivity in 9-month-old bilingual infants.

Research paper by Liquan L Liu, René R Kager

Indexed on: 07 Nov '16Published on: 07 Nov '16Published in: Cognitive Processing


This study explores the influence of bilingualism on the cognitive processing of language and music. Specifically, we investigate how infants learning a non-tone language perceive linguistic and musical pitch and how bilingualism affects cross-domain pitch perception. Dutch monolingual and bilingual infants of 8-9 months participated in the study. All infants had Dutch as one of the first languages. The other first languages, varying among bilingual families, were not tone or pitch accent languages. In two experiments, infants were tested on the discrimination of a lexical (N = 42) or a violin (N = 48) pitch contrast via a visual habituation paradigm. The two contrasts shared identical pitch contours but differed in timbre. Non-tone language learning infants did not discriminate the lexical contrast regardless of their ambient language environment. When perceiving the violin contrast, bilingual but not monolingual infants demonstrated robust discrimination. We attribute bilingual infants' heightened sensitivity in the musical domain to the enhanced acoustic sensitivity stemming from a bilingual environment. The distinct perceptual patterns between language and music and the influence of acoustic salience on perception suggest processing diversion and association in the first year of life. Results indicate that the perception of music may entail both shared neural network with language processing, and unique neural network that is distinct from other cognitive functions.