Assessing music perception in young children: Evidence for and psychometric features of the M-factor

Caio G. Barros, Walter Swardfager, Sylvain Moreno, Graziela Bortz, Beatriz Ilari, Andrea P. Jackowski, George Ploubidis, Todd D. Little, Alexandra Lamont, Hugo Cogo-Moreira

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Given the relationship between language acquisition and music processing, musical perception (MP) skills have been proposed as a tool for early diagnosis of speech and language difficulties; therefore, a psychometric instrument is needed to assess music perception in children under 10 years of age, a crucial period in neurodevelopment. We created a set of 80 musical stimuli encompassing seven domains of music perception to inform perception of tonal, atonal, and modal stimuli, in a random sample of 1006 children, 6-13 years of age, equally distributed from first to fifth grades, from 14 schools (38% private schools) in So Paulo State. The underlying model was tested using confirmatory factor analysis. A model encompassing seven orthogonal specific domains (contour, loudness, scale, timbre, duration, pitch, and meter) and one general music perception factor, the "m-factor," showed excellent fit indices. The m-factor, previously hypothesized in the literature but never formally tested, explains 93% of the reliable variance in measurement, while only 3.9% of the reliable variance could be attributed to the multidimensionality caused by the specific domains. The 80 items showed no differential item functioning based on sex, age, or enrolment in public vs. private school, demonstrating the important psychometric feature of invariance. Like Charles Spearman's g-factor of intelligence, the m-factor is robust and reliable. It provides a convenient measure of auditory stimulus apprehension that does not rely on verbal information, offering a new opportunity to probe biological and psychological relationships with music perception phenomena and the etiologies of speech and language disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Article number18
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Issue numberJAN
StatePublished - 2017


  • Assessment
  • Bifactor model
  • Children
  • Hearing
  • Music perception
  • Psychometrics


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