This article is part of the Research Topic Expression of emotion in music and vocal communication

Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Psychol., 26 June 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00372

Speech vs. singing: infants choose happier sounds

  • 1International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research, Department of Psychology, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada
  • 2Music Development Laboratory, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto Mississauga, Mississauga, ON, Canada

Infants prefer speech to non-vocal sounds and to non-human vocalizations, and they prefer happy-sounding speech to neutral speech. They also exhibit an interest in singing, but there is little knowledge of their relative interest in speech and singing. The present study explored infants' attention to unfamiliar audio samples of speech and singing. In Experiment 1, infants 4–13 months of age were exposed to happy-sounding infant-directed speech vs. hummed lullabies by the same woman. They listened significantly longer to the speech, which had considerably greater acoustic variability and expressiveness, than to the lullabies. In Experiment 2, infants of comparable age who heard the lyrics of a Turkish children's song spoken vs. sung in a joyful/happy manner did not exhibit differential listening. Infants in Experiment 3 heard the happily sung lyrics of the Turkish children's song vs. a version that was spoken in an adult-directed or affectively neutral manner. They listened significantly longer to the sung version. Overall, happy voice quality rather than vocal mode (speech or singing) was the principal contributor to infant attention, regardless of age.

Keywords: infants, music, language, singing, speech, emotion, attention

Citation: Corbeil M, Trehub SE and Peretz I (2013) Speech vs. singing: infants choose happier sounds. Front. Psychol. 4:372. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00372

Received: 01 March 2013; Paper pending published: 23 March 2013;
Accepted: 06 June 2013; Published online: 26 June 2013.

Edited by:

Anjali Bhatara, Université Paris Descartes, France

Reviewed by:

Christine Tsang, Huron University College at Western, Canada
Carolyn Quam, University of Arizona, USA

Copyright © 2013 Corbeil, Trehub and Peretz. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Marieve Corbeil and Isabelle Peretz, International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research, Department of Psychology, Université de Montréal, 1430 Mont Royal boul., Montreal, QC, H2V 4P3, Canada e-mail:;

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