Music learning, prosocial behaviors, and executive functioning in young children
Beatriz Ilari, Tina Huynh, Susan Helfter
Engagement in synchronous forms of musical play may enhance prosocial behaviors young children. Given the collective and play-based nature of early childhood music programs, it is possible that prolonged participation may bolster prosociality in young children. We conducted two studies with children aged 3-5. In study 1, we examined helping and sharing in children (N=36), who had been attending an early childhood music program for varied periods of time (range = 1 to 52 months). Children were invited to play a prosocial game, based on a narrative of three animals. As the story unfolded, children were invited to take part in situations that involved helping and sharing. A significant correlation was found between time in the music program and helpfulness (p<.01), but not displays of sharing (p>.05). In study 2, kindergartners (N=116) from two large urban schools were randomly assigned to two groups: experimental and control. They were tested on the same prosocial game used in study 1, along with tests of cognitive flexibility and working memory. All children received 5 weeks of music classes at their schools, yet at different times. The experimental group received music classes first, with the control group receiving music classes after all data were collected. Both groups were tested at the same time—before and after the musical intervention in the experimental group. There were no group differences for either sharing, helping, or working memory at the pre- and posttest. However, children in the experimental group had higher scores for cognitive flexibility at the posttest (p<.01). Interestingly, scores for sharing and helping (pre and post) were also significantly correlated (p<.01), raising the question whether findings from previous studies on prosociality related more to state than trait effects. These and other results will be discussed at the conference, with implications for early childhood music education.
Beatriz Ilari is Assistant Professor of Music Education at the University of Southern California and editor of Perspectives: Journal of the Early Childhood Music & Movement Association. Susan Helfter is Associate Professor of Practice, Chair of the Department of Music Teaching and Learning and Director of the Community Engagement Programs at the University of Southern California. Tina Huynh is a doctoral student in music education at the University of Southern California. She has 15 years of experience teaching a wide variety of music to all age levels in both vocal and instrumental music in public, private, community, and studio settings.