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Dev Psychol. 2010 Jan;46(1):286-92. doi: 10.1037/a0017555.

Infants prefer the musical meter of their own culture: a cross-cultural comparison.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Harvard University, USA.


Infants prefer native structures such as familiar faces and languages. Music is a universal human activity containing structures that vary cross-culturally. For example, Western music has temporally regular metric structures, whereas music of the Balkans (e.g., Bulgaria, Macedonia, Turkey) can have both regular and irregular structures. We presented 4- to 8-month-old American and Turkish infants with contrasting melodies to determine whether cultural background would influence their preferences for musical meter. In Experiment 1, American infants preferred Western over Balkan meter, whereas Turkish infants, who were familiar with both Western and Balkan meters, exhibited no preference. Experiments 2 and 3 presented infants with either a Western or Balkan meter paired with an arbitrary rhythm with complex ratios not common to any musical culture. Both Turkish and American infants preferred Western and Balkan meter to an arbitrary meter. Infants' musical preferences appear to be driven by culture-specific experience and a culture-general preference for simplicity.

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