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Playing Music for Baby

Talk - Sing for me mama
Dr. Nina Polytimou - Musical interactions and their impact on language and socio-emotional development

Event highlight - by Clover Zhang

Dr Nina Politimou (Lecturer in Department of Psychology and Human Development, UCL) focused on two main areas in this talk: 

the relationship between music and language the relationship between music and social-emotional development 


Music and language


Dr. Politimou mentioned that music and language share similarities, such as structured sound sequences, rhythmic modulations, and pitch variations. Aspects of language and music might be interconnected in infant perception. This could be attributed to the speech patterns used when communicating with babies, which tend to have higher pitch, exaggerated rhythmic and melodic patterns, and more emotional qualities. Thus, infants and children might possess common learning mechanisms for language and music. Some studies found that children randomly assigned to participate in musical training groups showed improvements in verbal abilities (Barac et al., 2011) and reading skills (Moreno et al., 2009; 2011) compared to children assigned to other activities such as painting. These findings suggest that formal musical experiences can contribute to enhancing language skills. However, the impact of informal musical environments outside the classroom also deserves attention. 


Dr. Nina Politimou's research demonstrated that parents' engagement in musical activities with their children is associated with the development of complex linguistic skills (Politimou et al., 2019). Inspired by these findings, Dr. Politimou developed two questionnaires—one for infants and another for preschoolers—called Music@Home. These questionnaires assess the home musical environment and predicts the development of complex linguistic skills in children under 5 years old across different age groups (Politimou et al., 2018). 


However, most of the current studies in this area are limited in their correlational nature, and the underlying mechanisms through which music facilitates language learning remain unclear. It is important to further explore this field to develop effective support strategies for young children at risk of language difficulties and gain valuable insights for early childhood education. Future research could conduct large-scale surveys to investigate possible cultural and age differences in the impact of musical environments on language learning.


Musical engagement and socio-emotional development 


The second part of Dr. Nina Politimou's talk focused on the relationship between musical engagement and socio-emotional development. She gave us three reasons to explain why musical activities may enhance babies' social development. Firstly, when there is musical communication between mothers and children, babies may imitate and expand upon their mother's sounds, promoting the sharing of mental states and fostering empathy. Secondly, shared intentionality plays a role. When individuals share an understanding of each other's intentions and focus on a common object of attention, it leads to empathizing with others. In the case of musical communication, the mother and the baby respond to each other, following and completing each other's sound patterns. Thirdly, there might be an evolutionary function of bonding between mothers and babies during musical communication. It has been proposed that, since ancient times, infant-directed speech has been used to promote bonding between mothers and babies, and emotional sounds may have served to maintain psychological contact between them.


Following her talk was a 30 mins discussion and Q+A session. Some of the areas discussed included: 

  • Whether musical interaction can promote attachment between parents and children

  • Why some people could focus more on studying or exercising while listening to music 

  • Current application related to music and language development


We would like to express our sincere gratitude to Dr. Politimou for this insightful talk. 




Barac, R., & Bialystok, E. (2010). Cognitive development of bilingual children. Language Teaching, 44(1), 36–54.

Moreno, S., Bialystok, E., Barac, R., Schellenberg, E. G., Cepeda, N. J., & Chau, T. (2011). Short-term music training enhances verbal intelligence and executive function. Psychological Science.

Moreno, S., Marques, C., Santos, A., Santos, M. M., Castro, S. L., & Besson, M. (2009). Musical Training Influences Linguistic Abilities in 8-Year-Old Children: More Evidence for Brain Plasticity. Cerebral Cortex, 19(3), 712–723.

Politimou, N., Bella, S. D., Farrugia, N., & Franco, F. (2019). Born to Speak and Sing: Musical Predictors of Language Development in Pre-schoolers. Frontiers in Psychology, 10.

Politimou, N., Stewart, L., Müllensiefen, D., & Franco, F. (2018). Music@Home: A novel instrument to assess the home musical environment in the early years. PLOS ONE, 13(4), e0193819.

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