Neonatal Musicality: Do Newborns Detect Emotions in Music?

Emese Nagy (Lead / Corresponding author), Rachael Cosgrove, Naomi Robertson, Theresa Einhoff, Hajnalka Orvos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
489 Downloads (Pure)


This study aimed to explore healthy, term neonates’ behavioural and physiological responses to music using frame-by-frame analysis of their movements (Experiment 1; N = 32, 0–3 days old) and heart rate measurements (Experiment 2; N = 66, 0–6 days old). A ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ music was first validated by independent raters for their emotional content from a large pool of children’s songs and lullabies, and the effect of the emotions in these two music pieces and a control, no-music condition was compared. The results of the frame-by-frame behavioural analysis showed that babies had emotion-specific responses across the three conditions. Happy music decreased their arousal levels, shifting from drowsiness to sleep, and resulted in longer latencies in other forms of self-regulatory behaviour, such as sucking. The decrease in arousal was accompanied by heart rate deceleration. In the sad music condition, relative ‘stillness’ was observed, and longer leg stretching latencies were measured. In both music conditions, longer latencies of fine motor finger and toe movements were found. Our findings suggest that the emotional response to music possibly emerges very early ontogenetically as part of a generic, possibly inborn, human musicality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)501-513
Number of pages13
JournalPsychological Studies
Issue number4
Early online date19 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • Emotion perception
  • Musicality
  • Neonatal behaviour

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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