Hello Dear Reader
The morning of Day 4 of the Music and Neurosciences V conference featured yet another beautiful blue sky. It has rained quite a bit in Switzerland lately so it has been nice to experience a run of pleasant weather. One of the best things about Dijon is the recent pedestrianization of the streets, which means I have had lovely walks every day past the Palais Des Ducs to the talk venue. This pleasant amble will be missed.
Although tired – this was the last day of the conference – I was determined not to miss the final two symposia of the conference. They featured comment along the lines of my new field of interest – music, health and wellbeing.
The first symposium was organised by Marie Cristina Caccuman and featured presentations by Joanne Loewy and Sandra Trehub, both seasoned professionals and highly respected researchers in developmental work.
Joanne has spent 20 years building an amazing therapeutic centre called the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Med Centre in New York. Sandra was recently awarded a lifetime achievement distinction in our field for her contribution to our understanding of musical development in infants.
Joanne has created an atmosphere of aesthetically pleasing wellness within her hospital setting where, in particular, her research involves assisting premature parents and their infants to cope with the unexpected and often traumatic transition in their lives. Joanne’s centre has other research studies including cancer patients, pain experiences and surgical interventions.
The work she presented at the conference focused on her breakthrough work with premature babies.
She showed a touching video of a mother with her premature baby, a mother who had been taught by the researchers in Joanne’s group about the use of specially created songs and sounds for soothing and modulating the arousal level of her new son.
Joanne’s approach favours live music, which allows for a feeling of reciprocity and permits active entrainment to vital signs. One thing that I learned from Joanne was her approach termed ‘song of kin’ whereby a song of parental choice is adapted to a lullaby format. This is then used by therapists and parents in the care of the baby. This technique not only benefits young infant but also reduces fear and anxiety perception in new parents.
Sandra gave a talk on a research-based approach to understanding the relative efficacy of singing and speech for arousal regulation in young children. Not premature infants this time, but relatively older children, between 3-5 years.
The result was striking – children listened on average for between 4 to 4.5 minutes to adult directed speech and infant directed speech respectively; this increased to 9 minutes for infant directed singing.
Clearly young children are more engaged, distracted or interested (not sure which) by musical sound, a finding that has intriguing possibilities for learning.
The second study sounded a little cruel but was well controlled and focused on a crucial question – singing attracts a child’s attention but does it actually soothe them once they are already distressed, any more than speech?
Infants first engaged in play with their mother, followed by a short period where the parent stopped playing and remained passive in front of them: just sitting staring, basically. Quite quickly the infants became a little distressed by this situation.
Once they showed the first signs of distress the mother began the ‘reunion phase’ based on either soothing speech or singing. The researchers took measures of the child’s reaction - the clearest was the skin conductance response, which measures anxiety. After 30 secs of singing children showed recovery from their distress however, with soothing speech, anxiety continued to rise for another minute after reunion had commenced.
Sandra had many insights into why singing was a much more effective communication for reducing anxiety in a stressed infant, including the distraction and engagement triggered by the increased rhythmic aspects of the sound. She also pointed out that it is easier for a mother to sing a song that continue speech at the same consistency and rate.
Also, singing may be more comforting for the mother as an action, and this may be perceivable by the infant.
All in all – a fascinating start to the morning. There was no break before the next session but I was happy to hear from the next symposium as it covered one of my favourite topics – music and memory…