Fabia Franco

MCCLab Head: Dr Fabia Franco f.franco@mdx.ac.uk


Twitter: @FabiaFranco_MCC


I studied in Italy, first at the University of Padua (BSc/MSc Experimental Psychology, Summa cum Laude) for which I was awarded the Italian Society of Psychology prize for best pre-doctoral dissertation (yrs. 1980-82), and then at the University of Bologna for my PhD in Developmental Psychology.

I worked as Post-doctoral Research Scholar at the University of Stirling where I worked with George Butterworth at the Infant Study Unit, thanks to initial grants from the Italian CNR and the European Science Foundation, followed by two grants from the ESRC in which I was co-investigator.

I became a tenured lecturer at the University of Padua in 1991. Following a sabbatical period at the University of Cambridge, I relocated to London for family reasons in 1998, when I joined Middlesex University. I have established the Middlesex babyLab, a research laboratory dedicated to infant research and including observation facilities with AV digital support, sound-isolating booth, preferential looking/listening, Tobii eye-tracking, Bioradio for physiological measures. More recently, I have established an interdisciplinary research group, the Music Cognition and Communication Lab (MCC Lab).

I am a member of The British Psychological Society / Developmental Section, the Society for Music Psychology Research and Education, and I am Life Member of Clare Hall (Cambridge).

Languages spoken: English (fluent), French (fluent), Italian (native), Spanish (basic).

I am an amateur classical singer, I am trying to learn to play the piano and I have recently joined the choir Cambridge Voice Company.


At the beginning of my research path, I was interested in ‘musical’ aspects of infant vocalisations (e.g., pitch contours and prosodic aspects) as a first basis for the development of an early sound-meaning system. I next invested my research efforts into investigating the social bases of language acquisition, joint attention in particular. Finally, I went around the circle: language and music are two interacting aspects of human communication! My more recent research is dedicated to various aspects of music psychology.

My research has been funded by AIRS, British Academy, DFG, ESF, ESRC, MHA, Nuffield Foundation, SEMPRE, SENSE in the UK, and in Italy by CNR and MURST.

Ongoing and recent projects

Evaluation of the benefits of music therapy intervention for individuals with cognitive decline in care home settings: behavioural and biomarker analyses, with Anthony Mangiacotti (Padua and Middlesex Universities), Michele Biasutti (Padua University) and Martine Van Puyvelde (Brussels Vrije University).

Validation study across UK and Italy of the Music Cognitive Test (A. Mangiacotti), a cognitive assessment test based on musical tasks, with Anthony Mangiacotti (Padua and Middlesex Universities), Michele Biasutti (Padua University) and Emma Ward (Middlesex University London).

Cross-modal associations linked with dissonant and consonant sound in infants, adults and individuals with ASD, with Fernando Bravo (Dresden Technical University), Martine Van Puyvelde (Brussels Vrije University) and Monica Mazza (L’Aquila University).

Universal recognition of embodied intentions in infant-directed singing across Westerners and three hunting-gathering cultures, with Jerome Lewis, Alice Rudge and Daniel Kricheff (UCL) and Simone Falk (Montreal University).

Infant speech perception, music and language development, with Simone Falk (Paris University), Mirco Fasolo & Maria Spinelli (Chieti-Pescara University), Giuliana Gevovese (Milan-Bicocca University) & Chiara Suttora (Bologna University).

Cognitive benefits of music exposure in adults, 3-4-year-olds and older adults 65+: behavioural, with Joel Swaine (Hull University), and Emma Ward (Middlesex University London), and psychophysiological, with Martine Van Puyvelde (Brussels Vrije University). https://doi.org/10.1177/0305735614548500

Reading, dyslexia and musical expertise – a study comparing dancers, musicians and controls, with Nicola Brunswick, Middlesex University London); dancers’ musicality (with Coulisse Bialic-Murphy, independent researcher, and George Evangelou, Goldsmith’s University).

The relationship between linguistic and musical abilities and the influence of the home musical environment on language development in pre-schoolers (with Nina Politimou’s PhD), including the development of Music@Home, questionnaires for infants’ and preschoolers’ parents (Politimou et al. 2018: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0193819).   A longitudinal project with infants is ongoing in London with Lauren Stewart (Goldsmith’s University of London). Music@Home has been adapted to German (Nora Schall, Dusseldorf University) and Italian (Fabia Franco with Sara Boem, Padua, and Mirco Fasolo, Chieti-Pescara University).

Mothers’ qualitative assessment of their and their infants’ communication skills following a three-month weekly music group based on singing or flute interaction conducted by a music therapist (with Tamar Hadar, Bar Ilan University): ISBN 978 88 6787 975 5.

Effects of music characteristics on movement synchronization and affiliation (with Stanislava Angelova):  https://doi.org/10.1075/is.17.2.06fra

Young children’s recognition of emotion in music, with Marcia Chew and Joel Swaine:


Completed projects

In the course of my career I studied the development of a first sound-meaning system based on nonsegmental features in infant prelinguistic vocalisations; infant-directed speech; and joint attention, in particular the pointing gesture in infants.

I am interested also in a number of other aspects of developmental psychology concerning young children’s cognition and emotion in typical and atypical groups. I have developed a simplified version of Eye-test (emotion in the eyes) that has been shown predictive of Theory of Mind abilities: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2014.01.037 and DOI: 10.1007/s10801-017-3194-1.  This has been successfully used in several labs with both typical children and children with ASD and Down’s syndrome.


Chifa, M., Hadar, T., Politimou, N., Reynolds, G., Franco, F. (2021). The Soundscape of Neonatal Intensive Care: A Mixed-Methods Study of the Parents’ Experience. Children8, 644, doi.org/10.3390/children8080644.

Papadimitriou, A., Smyth, C., Politimou. N., Franco, F., Stewart, L. (2021). The impact of the home musical environment on infants’ language development. Infant Behavior & Development (in press, accepted 30.09.2021)

Mangiacotti, A., Franco, F., Hsu, M. Hung, and Biasutti, M. (2021). Evaluating a professional development course on cognitive functions for Music Therapists working in care homes. The Arts in Psychotherapy74, 101800.

 Falk, S., Fasolo, M., Genovese, G., Romero-Lauro, E., & Franco, F. (2021). Sing for me mama! ID-singing facilitates phonetic discrimination in infancy. Infancy, 26(2), 248-270, doi: 10.1111/infa.12387.

 Ward, E.V, Alex, I., Donnelly, M., Van Puyvelde, M., Franco, F. (2021). Memory improvements in aging as a function of mood-matching music. Acta Psychologica, 212, 103206, doi.org/10.1016/j.actpsy.2020.103206.

 Franco, F., Fasolo, M., Kozar, I., Spinelli, M., and Suttora, C. (2020) Singing to infants Matter: Early singing interactions affect musical preferences and facilitate vocabulary building. Journal of Child Language, 1–26, doi.org/10.1017/S0305000921000167.

Politimou, N., Douglass-Kirk, P., Pearce, M., Stewart, L., & Franco, F. (2020). Melodic expectations in 5-and 6-year-old children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology203, 105020.

Schaal, N.K., Politimou, N., Franco, F., Stewart, L., and Mullensiefen, D., (2020). The German Music@Home: Validation of a questionnaire measuring at home musical exposure and interaction of young children. PlosOne, 15(8):e0235923.

Politimou, N., Dalla Bella, S., Faruggia, N., & Franco, F. (2019). Born to speak and sing: Musical predictors of language development in pre-schoolers. Frontiers in Psychology, Special Issue “The Impact of Music on Human Development and Well-Being”, 24 May, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00948.

Hadar, T., Boem, S., and Franco, F. (2018). Comparing the benefits of flute and singing groups for parents and infants on the development of communication. In Guadagnini, M. and Degli Stefani, M. (eds), Dinamiche di gruppo e musicalitá. Padova: CLEUP. ISBN 978 88 6787 975 5

Politimou, N., Mullensiefen, D., Stewart, L., and Franco, F. (2018). The Music@Home Questionnaires: A new tool to assess informal musical interactions in infants and preschoolers PlosOne, 13(4): e0193819. ISSN 1932-6203, doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0193819

Tuedor, M., Franco, F., White, A., Smith, S. and Adams, R. (2018). Testing literacy educational software to develop design guidelines for children with autism. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, ISSN: 1034-912X (Print) 1465-346X (Online) DOI: 10.1080/1034912X.2018.1450494

Pino, M.C., Mazza, M., Mariano, M., Peretti, S., Dimitriou, D., Masedu, F., Valenti, M., and Franco, F. (2017). Simple mind-reading abilities predict complex Theory of Mind: Developmental delay in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, DOI: 10.1007/s10801-017-3194-1.

Franco, F., Chew, M., and Swaine (2016). Preschoolers’ attribution of affect to music: A comparison between vocal and instrumental performance. Psychology of Music, 1st August online, DOI: 10.1177/0305735616652954.

Franco, F., and Angelova, S. (2016). Stepping together to music affects men and women differently: Mode and tempo effects on person perception in a synchronization task. Interaction Studies 17:2, 299-313. DOI: 10.1075/is.172.206fra.

Van Puyvelde, M., and Franco, F. (2015). The interaction of music and language in the ontogenesis of human communication: A multimodal parent-infant co-regulation system. Proceedings of the International Conference on the Multimodal Experience of Music 2015. Sheffield (UK): HRI Online Publications, ISBN 978-0-9571022-4-8. Available online at: <http://www.hrionline.ac.uk/openbook/chapter/ICMEM2015-VanPuyvelde&gt;

Gettings, S., Franco, F., & Santosh, P. (2015). Audio-conferencing as a method of facilitating sibling support groups: a pilot study. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 9:8  doi:10.1186/s13034-015-0041-z.

Franco, F., Swaine, J.S., Israni, S., Zaborowska, K.A., Kaloko, F., Kesavarajan, I. and Majek, J.A. (2014). Affect-matching music improves cognitive performance in adults and young children for both positive and negative emotions. Psychology of Music. DOI: 10.1177/0305735614548500.

Franco, F., Pomorska, K., Abramowski, A., Itakura, S., Nikaido, K. & Demetriou, D. (2014). The Eye-test revisited: Developmental course in typically developing preschoolers and children with autism Research in Developmental Disabilities. DOI: 10.1016/j.ridd.2014.01.037.

Franco, F. Embodied attention in infant pointing. In J. Metcalfe & H. Torrace (Eds.), Agency & Joint Attention. NY: Oxford University Press, 2013 (pp. 152-164) (ISBN 978-0-19-998834-1).

Franco, F., and Cross, I. Introduction to The Music of Language, The Language of Music: Meaning and Entrainment Questions. Empirical Musicology Review, 2012, vol. 7/1-2, 2-4.

Franco, F., & Martiskova, J. Can young children recognize emotion in the human voice? (Schopnosť rozpoznávania emócií z ľudského hlasu u detí predškolského veku). In E. Klčovanská & A. Topoľská (Eds) Psychologická teória a prax očami absolventa KP FF TU. Trnava (Slovakia): Trnava University Press, 2011 (pp. 125-132) (ISBN 978-80-8082-387-0).

Franco, F., Brunswick, N., & de Mornay Davies, P. Music of Language, Language of Music. The Psychologist, 2010, 11/3, 913-914.

Major, A., Franco, F., & Zotovic, M. Preschoolers understanding of implicit causality and theory of mind development: A comparison between Serbian and Hungarian monolingual children (in English). Psihologija, 2010, 43/2,187-198. DOI:10.2298/PSI1002187M; UDC 159.955.072-053.4.

Franco, F., Perucchini, P., & March, B. Is infant initiation of joint attention by pointing affected by type of interaction? Social Development, 2009, 18 (1), 51-76.

D’Odorico, L., Assanelli, A., Franco, F., Jacob,V. A follow-up study on Italian Late Talkers: Development of language, short-term memory, phonological awareness, impulsiveness and attention. Applied Psycholinguistics, 2007, 28, 157-169.

Franco, F. Infant pointing: Harlequin, servant of two masters. In N. Eilan, C. Hoerl, T. McCormack, J. Roessler (Eds.) Joint attention: Communication and other minds. Problems in philosophy and psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005 (pp. 129-164).

Assanelli, A., D’Odorico, L., Franco, F., & Salerni, N. Language delay and joint attention. Psicologia Clinica dello Sviluppo, 2005, IX N.2, 289-314.

Levorato, C., Franco, F., Tasso, A., Russell, J. Implicit causality in verbs of visual perception: A crosslinguistic comparison between English and Italian. Giornale Italiano di Psicologia, 2005, XXXII N. 3, 131-154.

Butterworth, G., Franco, F., McKenzie, B., Graupner, L., & Todd, B. Dynamic aspects of visual event perception and the production of pointing by human infants. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 2002, 20, 1-24.

Franco, F., & Gagliano, A. Toddler’s pointing when joint attention is obstructed. First Language, 2001, 21, 289-321.

Russell, J., Hill, E., & Franco, F. The role of belief veracity in understanding intentions-in-action: Preschool children’s performance on the transparent intentions task. Cognitive Development, 2001, 16, 775-792.

Assanelli, A., Salerni, N., Franco, F., & D’Odorico, L. Linguisitc delay and gestural communication. ELA2001 CD-rom Proceedings, 2001.

Franco, F., Levorato, C., Tasso, A., Russell, J. Cross-linguistic developmental evidence of implicit causality in visual perception and cognition verbs. In M. Perkins & S. Howard (Eds.) New directions in language development and disorders. New York: Plenum, 2000 (pp. 189-198).

Franco, F. The development of meaning in infancy: Early communication and social understanding. In S. Hala (Ed.) The development of social cognition. Hove: Psychology Press, 1997 (pp. 95-160).

Franco, F., & Wishart, J. Preverbal communication in young children with Down syndrome. In M. Aldridge (Ed.) Proceedings of the Child Language Seminar. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd., 1996 (pp. 52-65).

Franco, F., & Butterworth, G. Pointing and social awareness: Declaring and requesting in the second year. Journal of Child Language, 1996, 23, 307-336.

Franco, F., & Wishart, J. Gestural communication development in children with Down syndrome. In R. Vianello & C. Cornoldi (Eds.), Handicap e apprendimento: Ricerche e proposte di intervento (Handicap and learning: Research and intervention). Bergamo: Junior, 1995 (pp. 55-69).

Franco, F., & Longobardi, E. Assessment of communication and early language. In G. Axia (Ed.), La valutazione dello sviluppo (Assessment of development). Roma: La Nuova Italia, 1994 (pp. 117-151).

Butterworth, G., & Franco, F. Motor development: communication and cognition. In L. Kalverboer, B. Hopkins, R.H. Gueze (Eds.) A longitudinal approach to the study of motor development in early and later childhood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993 (pp. 153-165).

Jenkins, J., Franco, F., Dolins, F., & Sewell, A. Toddlers’ reactions to negative emotion displays: Forming models of relationships. Infant Behavior and Development, 1995, 18, 273-281.

Franco, F., & Wishart, J. The use of pointing and other gestures by young children with Down syndrome. American Journal of Mental Retardation, 1995, 100/2, 160-182.

Franco, F. Some social perception processes in adult-infant interaction: An experimental approach. In G. Di Stefano and M. Tallandini (Eds.), Meccanismi e processi di sviluppo nell’interpretazione post-piagetiana (Mechanisms and processes of development in post-Piagetian modeling). Milano: Cortina, 1991 (pp. 359-398).

Franco, F., Evidence, interpretation and theories about object permanence in the sensorimotor period. In G. Di Stefano and M. Tallandini (Eds.) Meccanismi e processi di sviluppo nell’interpretazione post-piagetiana (Mechanisms and processes of development in post-Piagetian modeling). Milano: Cortina, 1991 (pp. 249-302).

D’Odorico, L., & Franco, F. Adult-infant interaction as a context for communicative development. In V. Ugazio (Ed.) I condizionamenti educativi (Educational constraints on development). Milano: Angeli, 1991 (pp. 184-208).

D’Odorico, L., & Franco, F. Selective production of vocalisations in different communication contexts. Journal of Child Language, 1991, 18, 475-99.

Franco, F., D’Odorico, L., & Campbell, R. Children’s knowledge about infants. Eta’ Evolutiva, 1990, 39, 91-96.

Franco, F., Arcuri, L., & Cadinu, M. Implicit causality in interpersonal verbs: a test with Italian. Giornale Italiano di Psicologia, 1990, XVII/1, 159-174.

Franco, F., & Arcuri, L. Implicit causality of verbs: Effects of semantic valence. British Journal of Social Psychology, 1990, 26, 61-70.

Franco, F. Analysis of preverbal communicative development. In L. Camaioni and F. Simion (Eds.) Metodi di ricerca in psicologia dello sviluppo (Research methods in developmental psychology). Bologna: Il Mulino, 1989 (pp. 237-267).

Franco, F., & D’Odorico, L. Baby Talk from the perspective of discourse production. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 1988, 17, 29-63.

Franco, F. Similarities and differences between different types of social partners in adult-infant interaction. Eta’ Evolutiva, 1988, 30, 103-113.

Franco, F. Maturation and development: acoustical analysis of communication by cry. Revista de Logopedia, Foniatria y Audiologia (Spain), 1988, VIII/3, 162-172.

Franco, F., & D’Odorico, L. Context-discourse matching in Baby Talk. In M. Bertuccelli Papi and J. Verschueren (Eds.) The pragmatic perspective. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 1987 (pp. 213-228).

Franco, F., Memory in infancy: precursors, prerequisites, or early memory organisations? Giornale Italiano di Psicologia, 1987, XIV/4, 563-576.

Franco, F. Infant cry in the perspective of language development: spectrographic analysis of vocalisations and psychological accounts. In J. Kirkland (Ed.) Cry Reports; Special Issue 1987. Palmerston North, N. Z.: Massey University Press, 1988 (pp. 10-16).

D’Odorico, L., & Franco, F. Interactional context and Baby Talk: A comparison between mothers and fathers. Giornale Italiano di Psicologia, 1986, 2, 253-273.

D’Odorico, L., & Franco, F. The construction of the sound-meaning system – Analysis of vocalizations in the prelinguistic period. Cahier the Psychologie Cognitive –Current Psychology of Cognition, 1985, 5, 265-266.

D’Odorico, L., Franco, F., & Vidotto, G. Temporal characteristics in infant cry and non-cry vocalisations. Language and Speech, 1985, 28, 29-46.

D’Odorico, L., & Franco, F. The determinants of Baby Talk: Relationship to context. Journal of Child Language, 1985, 12, 567-586.

Franco, F., & Gobbo, C. Analysis of exploratory behaviour in mother-infant interaction. Eta’ Evolutiva, 1985, 20, 13-24.

Franco, F. Differences in manner of phonation of infant cries: relationship to communicative context. Language and Speech, 1984, 27, 59-78.

Franco, F. Non-segmental aspects of the acoustical differentiation of cry and non-cry vocalisations in the first year of life. Acta Phoniatrica Latina, 1984, V/3, 197-202.

D’Odorico, L., & Franco, F. Communicative development of crying in the first year of life. Eta’ Evolutiva, 1984, 19, 11-21.

Franco, F. Functions and characteristics of crying in the first year of life. A critical review of the literature. Eta’ Evolutiva, 1984, 19, 105-118.

Franco, F. The development of research on the diagnostic use of spectrographic analysis of infant cry. Methodological problems and suggestions for a normative study. Psicologia Clinica, 1983, 2, 221-245.

Franco, F. Jerome Bruner’s contribution to the study of language development. Archivio di Psicologia Neurologia e Psichiatria, 1983, 1, 44-67.