The effects of mother-infant singing on emotional closeness, affect, anxiety, and stress hormones

Fancourt, D. and Perkins, R. (2018) The effects of mother-infant singing on emotional closeness, affect, anxiety, and stress hormones. Music & Science, 1 pp. 1-10. ISSN 2059-2043


Among mammals who invest in the production of a relatively small number of offspring, bonding is a critical strategy for survival. Mother–infant bonding among humans is not only linked with the infant’s survival but also with a range of protective psychological, biological, and behavioral responses in both mothers and infants in the post-birth period and across the life span. Anthropological theories suggest that one behavior that may have evolved with the aim of enhancing mother–infant bonding is infant-directed singing. However, to date, despite mother–infant singing being practiced across cultures, there remains little quantitative demonstration of any effects on mothers or their perceived closeness to their infants. This within-subjects study, comparing the effects of mother–infant singing with other mother–infant interactions among 43 mothers and their infants, shows that singing is associated with greater increases in maternal perceptions of emotional closeness in comparison to social interactions. Mother–infant singing is also associated with greater increases in positive affect and greater decreases in negative affect as well as greater decreases in both psychological and biological markers of anxiety. This supports previous findings about the effects of singing on closeness and social bonding in other populations. Furthermore, associations between changes in closeness and both affect and anxiety support previous research suggesting associations between closeness, bonding, and wider mental health.

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