How dancing makes your baby more helpful: McMaster study

Moving your baby to the beat may make them more helpful, according to new research from McMaster University.

14-month-old toddlers made a connection by 'dancing' with researchers

A baby helps out a new friend after the researcher and lead author, Laura Cirelli, "accidentally" drops a clothes pin. The toddler, who just "danced" with Cirelli for less than three minutes before the test, helps her our by picking up the dropped pin. (Screenshot, McMaster University video)

Moving your baby to the beat may make them more helpful, according to new research out of McMaster University. 

Looking at 14-month-old toddlers, the study found that babies who made a connection by 'dancing' with researchers would help their new friend later on.

But if the baby and researcher didn't move in time, don't expect a helping hand from the toddlers.

"We don't know how long the effects will last," joked lead author Laura Cirelli. 

A baby that dances in time, helps out later

Working in pairs and using a front-facing chest-strap, the babies bounced either in time or out of sync with the Cirelli for two-and-a-half minutes. Later, they would watch Cirelli attempt to hang laundry and "accidentally" drop a clothes pin, a test they repeated nine times. Babies who bounced in time with Cirelli helped her pick up the half of the clothes pins she "accidentally" dropped, as opposed to 30 per cent of objects from babies who didn't dance in time. 

"Theoretically we expected it to happen based on the fact music is a social thing for adults," explained Cirelli. She said the altruism test works on people as young as 14-months, and shows a difference for when the researcher throws the object down, as opposed to dropping it accidentally, demonstrating the toddler's ability to recognize "goal-directed behaviour."

"If a 14-month old understands the person wants the object because they need it to complete this goal, then they should only hand it back when it's accidentally dropped… This is the youngest age group that you can use this (test)."

Bouncing helped form a social bond

Cirelli, who worked on the study with fellow doctoral student Kate Einarson out of Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior at McMaster, said the research shows how toddlers can connect with people through music and dance, forming a bond even in a short period of time. 

The research has further implications on the impact of actively listening to music, how long that "helpfulness" connection may last, and if the kids can understand social networks and extend that helping hand to those within their group.

"Groups that would use musical behaviour like dancing together and singing together, might then work better together in other regards, in a non-musical context. It kind of builds this group feeling together after engaging in musical behaviours," said Cirelli. "Does dancing with Person A in synchrony only make the baby only more helpful towards that person, or does it also make them more helpful to other people?" 

The study does not, however, take into account how well a person dances.

"People generally underestimate their ability to dance," joked Cirelli.


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