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'Born-to-dance' babies prefer beats to banter

Babies are born to dance and find the rhythm and tempo of music more engaging than speech, research has shown.

A study of infants aged from five months to two years suggests babies are pre-programmed to move rhythmically in response to music.

Psychologist Marcel Zentner said: "Our research suggests that it is the beat rather than other features of the music, such as the melody, that produces the response in infants.

"We also found that the better the children were able to synchronise their movements with the music, the more they smiled.

"It remains to be understood why humans have developed this particular predisposition. One possibility is that it was a target of natural selection for music or that it has evolved for some other function, that just happens to be relevant for music processing."

Infants listened to a variety of stimulating sounds including classical music, rhythmic beats and speech.

Their spontaneous movements were recorded by video and 3D motion-capture technology so that they could be compared.

Professional ballet dancers were employed by the UK scientists to analyse the extent to which babies matched their movement to music.

The research is published in the online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.