Genetic influences on musical specialization: a twin study on choice of instrument and music genre

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2018 May 9. doi: 10.1111/nyas.13626. Online ahead of print.


Though several studies show that genetic factors influence individual differences in musical engagement, aptitude, and achievement, no study to date has investigated whether specialization among musically active individuals in terms of choice of instrument and genre is heritable. Using a large twin cohort, we explored whether individual differences in instrument choice, instrument category, and the type of music individuals engage in can entirely be explained by the environment or are partly due to genetic influences. About 10,000 Swedish twins answered an extensive questionnaire about music-related traits, including information on the instrument and genre they played. Of those, 1259 same-sex twin pairs reported to either play an instrument or sing. We calculated the odds ratios (ORs) for concordance in music choices (if both twins played) comparing identical and nonidentical twin pairs, with significant ORs indicating that identical twins are more likely to engage in the same type of music-related behavior than are nonidentical twins. The results showed that for almost all music-related variables, the odds were significantly higher for identical twins to play the same musical instrument or music genre, suggesting significant genetic influences on such music specialization. Possible interpretations and implications of the findings are discussed.

Keywords: concordance; gene-environment interplay; instrument; music-related choice; twin.