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Musical talent may be largely genetic, twin study says

Some aspects of musical talent may be genetic, although practice still hones skills, according to Swedish research involving identical twins.
Lois M. Collins, Deseret News Modified: August 12, 2014 at 4:14 pm •  Published: August 14, 2014

Practice will only get one so far when it comes to music, according to a Swedish study of identical twins that suggests talent may be largely genetic.

The study by researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm was just published in the journal Psychological Science.

"Researchers compared pairs of identical twins and found that no matter how hard one twin had practiced up to that point in their life, the other twin who had practiced much less still had an equal level of ability in certain musical skills," wrote Live Science's Jillian Rose Lim.

"The idea that an externally imposed practice regime can and will lead to expertise seems to be wrong," study researcher Miriam Mosing, a neuroscientist at Karolinska, told Lim in an email. "But innate ability should also not be seen in a deterministic way as, naturally, practice will (almost) always lead to an increase in ability (but not necessarily to high-level expertise)."

The study abstract notes the long and intense debate of relative importance of nature and nurture for different types of expertise.

"Music proficiency is viewed as a general model for expertise, and associations between deliberate practice and music proficiency have been interpreted as supporting the prevailing idea that long-term deliberate practice inevitably results in increased music ability," the researchers said.

But when they looked at the association between practice and ability in more than 10,000 Swedish twins, they discovered that the associations between practice and ability were largely inherited and "contrary to the causal hypothesis, nonshared environmental influences did not contribute. There was no difference in ability within monozygotic twin pairs differing in their amount of practice, so that when genetic predisposition was controlled for, more practice was no longer associated with better music skills. These findings suggest that music practice may not causally influence music ability and that genetic variation among individuals affects both ability and inclination to practice."

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