Can Musical Training Help a Depressed Mother Distinguish Her Child’s Cries?

One of the symptoms of depression is a blunted sensitivity to emotional stimuli. Individuals with depression tend to respond less expressively to events that would ordinarily elicit strong emotions in others. One of these events is a child’s cry. It has been shown that mothers with depression react less emotionally than nondepressed mothers when their babies cry. This has been attributed to the impaired reactivity often exhibited in depression. It has also been thought to be the result of a depressed individual’s inability to distinguish emotions in others.

Babies’ cries have unique pitches and musical intonations. When a mother hears her baby cry, she can usually identify a distress cry from a nondistress cry. But mothers with depression are less able to distinguish the two sounds. Because of the musical characteristics in an infant’s cry, experts have begun to theorize as to whether or not musical training could improve a depressed mother’s ability to accurately identify a distress cry. To explore this further, Katherine S. Young of the Section of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Oxford in the UK recently led a study that compared the responses of 57 adults with depression and without. Some of the participants had approximately 4 years of musical training and others had no musical education.

Young evaluated the responses of the participants after they were cued to two distress cries and asked to identify which was more distressed. She discovered that the participants with depression and musical training were able to identify the more distressed cry as well as the nondepressed participants with and without musical training. The results also revealed that the depressed participants with no musical education had the most difficulty distinguishing the more distressed cry from the less distressed cry. Young believes these findings could have implications for future research aimed at addressing the emotional response deficits in individuals with depression. Additionally, these results open the avenue for new treatments incorporating musical education for women at risk for postpartum depression. She added, “The strength of this type of intervention is that it could be carried out during pregnancy, before parents have any experience of interacting with their infant.” Overall, these findings offer new insight into the possibilities of diminishing emotional response impairments caused by depressive symptoms.

Reference:
Young, K. S., Parsons, C. E., Stein, A., Kringelbach, M. L. (2012). interpreting infant vocal distress: The ameliorative effect of musical training in depression. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028705

Related articles:
May is Perinatal Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S.: Peri-huh?
Tools to Help With the Early Stages of Remission of Perinatal Depression

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  • ellen b

    ellen b

    July 23rd, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    Just one of the many benefits that musical training has to offer And if this is the case then why are those “in the know” always wnating so badly to decrease funding for the arts? Good question to ponder. . .

  • Breanne

    Breanne

    July 23rd, 2012 at 4:18 PM

    This would be really great training for anyone, especially if it could be implemented across the board while the mothers are pregnant.

    They would have this musical training, which would make them a more well rounded person with skills to then share with their children when they are old enough. In addition they would have something for them to use if they ever were to experience depression after giving birth to their child.

  • soma

    soma

    July 24th, 2012 at 4:23 AM

    depression so dulls the senses that it is no surprise that there are moms who have a difficult time knowing the nuances of their babies cries when they are suffering with depressed feelings. I would think that any good mom who has a grasp on reality though would be willing to at least give music education a try so that they can get back to feeling those deep feelings that always accompany motherhood.

  • PETE

    PETE

    July 25th, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    THERE ARE NUMEROUS BENEFITS OF MUSIC EDUCATION

    IT MAKES US SMARTER, OBVIOUSLY, AND NOW IT CAN EVEN KEEP US IN TUNE WITH OUR KIDS

    WHY ON EARTH WOULD WE EVER DISREGARD THE BENEFITS OF MUSIC EDUCATION IN OUR LIVES WHEN WE CONTINUE TO SEE JUST HOW GOOD IT ALWAyS SEEMS TO BE?

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