In cultures around the world, dance is a common activity. To some groups, it can be a sacred act. For others, it brings communities together, or sometimes it's just a fun way to express oneself. In the lens of developmental psychology, when do children develop a sensitivity to music and make dance movements?
Researchers Kim and Schachner (2022) found that recognizable dance behaviors happen and change during the first two years of life, making dance a key component of cognitive, emotional, social, and motor development. Musicality develops early with age in the first weeks of life, as different sounds catch infants' attention. Different tones and tempos have been shown to evoke emotional responses. For example, an infant might respond differently to a lullaby compared to house music.
A parental report was used to record musical behavior. The study recruited 278 participants via social media advertisements who were 0 to 24 months old. An online questionnaire consisted of six blocks of questions describing the child's demographics, current dance behavior, the child's first dance behavior, parents' dance with their child, the child's motor development, and parental demographics. The answers were then coded for statistical analysis. On average, this questionnaire took parents nearly 12 minutes to complete.
The results found that nearly 90% of infants are dancing by the time they can crawl. The researchers found that the average age of consistent dance behavior was around 9.4 months. A wide range of ages from 4 to 24.8 months has been shown to self-initiate dance movements in the presence of music. Only a small majority of the infants only danced in front of someone else, and another small majority of infants danced only after seeing another adult dancing. In addition to these findings, researchers found that motor development was a predictor of different dance movement types. The research shows that with increasing age, children dance more frequently, and that dance indicates physiological maturation.
The importance of this research shows that when an infant is showing signs of developing a connection to acoustic sounds and dance movements, it can be an encouraging sign of maturation. The indicators of dance movements show that babies who dance are more likely to socialize and develop their motor skills and activate different areas of the brain that encourage them to engage in their environment more than those who don't dance as frequently. This research study is just the beginning of understanding dance's origins and how babies just want to have fun!
Kim M, Schachner A. (2022). The origins of dance: Characterizing the development of infants'
earliest dance behavior. Developmental Psychology.