Preliminary evidence for selective cortical responses to music in one-month-old infants [video]

Preliminary evidence for selective cortical responses to music in one-month-old infants [video]

Date Posted:  March 23, 2023
Date Recorded:  March 2, 2023
CBMM Speaker(s):  Heather L Kosakowski, Nancy Kanwisher
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Dr. Heather Kosakowski and Prof. Nancy Kanwisher describe their latest journal article being published in Developmental Science regarding a study of selective responses to music in infant brains.

Research Highlights:

  • Responses to music, speech, and control sounds matched for the spectrotemporal modulation-statistics of each sound were measured from 2- to 11-week-old sleeping infants using fMRI.
  • Auditory cortex was significantly activated by these stimuli in 19 out of 36 sleeping infants.
  • Selective responses to music compared to the three other stimulus classes were found in non-primary auditory cortex but not in nearby Heschl's Gyrus.
  • Selective responses to speech were not observed in planned analyses but were observed in unplanned, exploratory analyses.


Prior studies have observed selective neural responses in adult human auditory cortex to music and speech that cannot be explained by the differing lower-level acoustic properties of these stimuli. Does infant cortex exhibit similarly selective responses to music and speech shortly after birth? To answer this question, we attempted to collect functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data from 45 sleeping infants (2.0- to 11.9-weeks-old) while they listened to monophonic instrumental lullabies and infant-directed speech produced by a mother. To match acoustic variation between music and speech sounds we (1) recorded music from instruments that had a similar spectral range as female infant-directed speech, (2) used a novel excitation-matching algorithm to match the cochleagrams of music and speech stimuli, and (3) synthesized “model-matched” stimuli that were matched in spectrotemporal modulation statistics to (yet perceptually distinct from) music or speech. Of the 36 infants we collected usable data from, 19 had significant activations to sounds overall compared to scanner noise. From these infants, we observed a set of voxels in non-primary auditory cortex (NPAC) but not in Heschl's Gyrus that responded significantly more to music than to each of the other three stimulus types (but not significantly more strongly than to background scanner noise). In contrast, our planned analyses did not reveal voxels in NPAC that responded more to speech than to model- matched speech, although other unplanned analyses did. These preliminary findings suggest that music selectivity arises within the first month of life.

Examples of the stimuli used in the experiment are available here:

All stimuli, code, and data are available for download here:

Associated Research Module: