Franco and his team have learned that children and adults categorize the emotional effects of music in the same ways. This finding is important because children do not necessarily respond to sensory stimuli as adults do. The researchers found that “novel child-directed music was presented in three conditions: instrumental, vocal-only, and song (instrumental plus vocals) to 3- to 6-year-olds previously screened for language development. . . . children chose a face expressing the emotion matching each musical track. All performance conditions comprised ‘happy’ (major mode/fast tempo) and ‘sad’ (minor mode/ slow tempo) tracks. Nonsense syllables rather than words were used in the vocals in order to avoid the influence of lyrics on children’s decisions. The results showed that even the younger children were able to correctly identify the intended emotion in music . . . and recognition appeared facilitated in the instrumental condition. . . . . preschoolers can reliably recognise ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ emotion in music from the age of 4 years, and that even 3-year-olds succeed with ‘happy’ tracks.”
Fabia Franco, Marcia Chew, and Joel Swaine. 2017. “Preschoolers Attribution of Affect to Music: A Comparison Between Vocal and Instrumental Performance.” Psychology of Music, vol. 45, no. 1, pp. 131-149.