The interaction between a mother and her infant has been described as an intricate ‘dance’ involving coordinated singing and movement (Feldman, 2007). It is widely accepted that infant-directed (ID) speech, characterized as having higher pitch, slower tempo, and exaggerated intonation, is an effective means of communicating with infants and holding their attention (Papousek et al., 1985). Singing is another universally observed caregiving behaviour. Mothers across cultures intuitively use infant-directed (ID) singing to regulate their infants’ emotional state (de l’Etoile, 2006; Nakata & Trehub, 2004). While ID speech and singing appear to be equally successful in regulating infants’ attention (Corbeil, et al., 2013), their effects in modulating infants’ distress are less clear. More precisely, while stress and arousal are intimately connected, there is no research to date that has investigated the efficacy of speech and singing in alleviating infant distress.
Using a modified version of the Face-to-Face/Still-Face (FFSF) paradigm (Tronick et al., 1978), the current study is the first to examine 10-month-old infants’ behavioural and physiological responses, via Skin Conductance (SC), to their mother’s singing and speaking. Stress was effectively induced in the still-face episode with infants exhibiting typical “still-face” behaviours and elevated SC responses. The results indicated that in the reunion episode, mother’s singing was more effective in decreasing infant’s physiological arousal, regulating negative affect and promoting infants’ visual attention in comparison to maternal speaking.
However, the genre of songs selected (e.g., play song or lullaby) might have been contributed to the positive outcomes of singing in regulating infants’ emotions. Therefore, the second study used the same methodology to examine the effects of maternal play songs and lullabies on infants’ physiological and behavioural responses. The results indicated that maternal play songs were more effective in regulating infants’ stress as well as capturing and maintaining their attention than were soothing lullabies. Taken together, the findings indicate that maternal
singing, specifically playful performances, supports infants’ emotions and effectively regulates their stress.