Genes, environment help people become accomplished musicians

Genetics and environment work together to help people become accomplished musicians, a new study has found.

Research led by Michigan State University (MSU) studied 850 sets of twins and found that when it came to music accomplishment, genes had a bigger influence on those who practiced than those who didn't.

"The nature vs nurture debate has raged since the beginning of psychology," said Zach Hambrick, MSU professor of psychology.

"This makes it very clear that it's both. Not only in the sense that both nature and nurture contribute, but that they interact with each other," Hambrick said.

The study found that accomplished musicians practiced much more than those who weren't accomplished.

The propensity to practice was fuelled partly by genetics, which the researchers were able to establish by comparing identical twins, who share 100 per cent of their genes, with fraternal twins, who share 50 per cent of their genes.

The finding suggests genetics influence the sorts of activities we pursue.

Some have argued that experts are almost entirely "made" and that a lack of innate ability can be overcome with enough training.

The way to master that cello, in other words, is to practice for at least 10,000 hours, as past research has suggested.

But the new study challenges that theory by showing genes had a major contribution on the musicians who practiced and became successful. For those who didn't practice, there was essentially no genetic contribution.

"Contrary to the view that genetic effects go away as you practice more and more we found that genes become more important in accounting for differences across people in music performance as they practice," Hambrick said.

The study appears in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin Review.

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