Massage therapists know soft music assists in client relaxation—and some music is even formulated for specific healing purposes. New research indicates humans may be even more musically inclined than previously thought.

Researchers have discovered babies respond to the tempo and rhythm of music—and find it even more engaging than speech.

The findings, based on the study of infants aged between five months and two years old, suggest that babies may be born with a predisposition to move rhythmically in response to music.

“Our research suggests that it is the beat rather than other features of the music, such as the melody, that produces the response in infants,” said researcher Marcel Zentner, Ph.D., from the University of York’s Department of Psychology. “We also found that the better the children were able to synchronize their movements with the music, the more they smiled.

“It remains to be understood why humans have developed this particular predisposition,” he added. “One possibility is that it was a target of natural selection for music or that it has evolved for some other function that just happens to be relevant for music processing.”

The findings were recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition.

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