Making music may improve young children’s behaviour

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Cello musical instrument by Georg FeitscherMaking music can improve both pro-social behaviour (voluntary behaviour intended to benefit another) and the problem solving skills of young children according to a new study.

Building on existing research (Kirschner and Tomasello in 20102) which found that making music significantly improves pro-social behaviour in young children) the current study investigated not only the potential effects of music making (singing or playing an instrument) on pro-sociability but also its effects on problem-solving and whether there was a difference between boys and girls.

The study, carried out by undergraduate student, Rie Davies, and academics Dr Maddie Ohl and Dr Anne Manyande from the School of Psychology at the University of West London, explored the pro-sociability, co-operation and problem-solving abilities of 24 girls and 24 boys aged four.

The children in the study were randomly assigned to either a ‘Music’ Group (Group 1) or a ‘No Music’ Group (Group 2). Children in Group 1 (Music) sang and played the percussion bullfrog and children in Group 2 (No Music) listened to a story. These sequences were then followed by two games a ‘Co-operation’ game and a ‘Helping’ game. The children’s problem solving ability was tested by observing their reactions during the ‘Helping’ game.

Music improved helpfulness for both girls and boys with children in the ‘Music’ group over thirty times more likely to help than those in the ‘No Music’ group. Girls were over twenty times more likely to help than boys. Making music was also shown to improve co-operation among all the children in the ‘Music Group’ who were six times more likely to co-operate than those in the ‘No Music’ Group. Once again girls were even more likely to co-operate after music making than boys. Boys in the ‘Music’ Group were also four times more likely to problem solve.

Rie Davies said: “This study provides support for prior research by Kirschner and Tomasello (2010)1 and also highlights the need for schools and parents to understand the important role music making has in children’s lives in terms of social bonding and helping behaviours. Music making in class, particularly singing, may encourage pupils with learning differences and emotional difficulties to feel less alienated in the school environment.”

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