Museum of Science, Boston

Music Preferences

What role does music play in children’s friendship preferences?

This research explores the role of musical preferences in guiding children’s social preferences: Do children take into account others’ musical preferences when making new friendships?

In this study, children ages 4-5 years are presented with pictures of two children on a computer screen. We play them the “favorite song” of each child on the screen. One of the songs is more familiar or likeable than the other. We then ask children which of the two children on the screen they would rather have as their friend. The same procedure is repeated 6 times with different pairs of pictures and songs.

With this study, we want to find out whether children’s social preferences (like their choice of friends) are influenced by their musical preferences. Do they choose the child who has a similar “taste” in music as their own?

This research may begin to shed light on the origins of music’s social functions, and the role music plays in forming one’s ethnic and social identity.

Learn about other research related to Conceptualizing Music and Art.

This research is conducted by the Laboratory for Developmental Studies at Harvard University

Try it at the Museum

Making music

Play a song on the lithophone near the Geology Field Station in the Discovery Center. Can you figure out how to play a familiar tune (like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or “Happy Birthday”)?

Now, change the rhythm of the notes or the melody to make the familiar song sound different. Do you still like the song?

Can you come up with a brand new song that you like? Can you come up with one that you don’t like? What about each song makes it pleasant or unpleasant to listen to?

Try it at Home

Different countries, different sounds

Listen to some samples of music from different cultures - the website has many music clips and articles to help you explore.

What kind of instruments do different cultures use to make music?

How does the music from another country (like India or China) differ from music in North America? How is it similar?

Evolution of music

Tune your radio to an oldies station and listen to the music with your child. Then, turn to a pop station and listen for a while.

How is music from many years ago different from music we listen to today? Do you think it changed suddenly, or little by little?

Which station’s music does your child seem to prefer? How do you know?