Musical instrument engagement in adolescence predicts verbal ability 4 years later: A twin and adoption study

Dev Psychol. 2021 Nov;57(11):1943-1957. doi: 10.1037/dev0001245.


Individual differences in music traits are heritable and correlated with the development of cognitive and communication skills, but little is known about whether diverse modes of music engagement (e.g., playing instruments vs. singing) reflect similar underlying genetic/environmental influences. Moreover, the biological etiology underlying the relationship between musicality and childhood language development is poorly understood. Here we explored genetic and environmental associations between music engagement and verbal ability in the Colorado Adoption/Twin Study of Lifespan behavioral development & cognitive aging (CATSLife). Adolescents (N = 1,684) completed measures of music engagement and intelligence at approximately age 12 and/or multiple tests of verbal ability at age 16. Structural equation models revealed that instrument engagement was highly heritable (a² = .78), with moderate heritability of singing (a² = .43) and dance engagement (a² = .66). Adolescent self-reported instrument engagement (but not singing or dance engagement) was genetically correlated with age 12 verbal intelligence and still was associated with age 16 verbal ability, even when controlling for age 12 full-scale intelligence, providing evidence for a longitudinal relationship between music engagement and language beyond shared general cognitive processes. Together, these novel findings suggest that shared genetic influences in part accounts for phenotypic associations between music engagement and language, but there may also be some (weak) direct benefits of music engagement on later language abilities. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

Publication types

  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / genetics
  • Music*
  • Twins / genetics