Winkler, I., Háden, G., Ladinig, O., Sziller, I., & Honing, H. (2009). Newborn infants detect the beat in music. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106, 2468-2471. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0809035106


In order to shed light on how humans can learn to understand music, we need to discover what perceptual capabilities infants are born with. Beat induction, the detection of a regular pulse in an auditory signal, is considered a fundamental human trait that, arguably, played a decisive role in the origin of music. Theorists are divided on the issue whether this ability is innate or learned. We show that newborn infants develop expectation for the onset of rhythmic cycles (the downbeat), even when it is not marked by stress or other distinguishing spectral features. Omitting the downbeat elicits brain activity associated with violating sensory expectations. Thus our results strongly support the view that beat perception is innate.

Full paper (pdf or reprint)

For additional information see