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Genetic and environmental determinants of musical ability in twins

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Analyses of musical ability data from the Loehlin and Nichols National Merit Scholarship study are presented. Musical ability is indexed by four measures: interest in a profession in music, performance in school, performance outside of school, and receiving honors in music. These variables pose a challenge for behavior genetic analysis since they do not conform to the assumptions of traditional linear models. For example, there is a dependent relationship between the honors and the performance variables; one cannot obtain honors without performance. Several methods were employed to deal with these relationships, and the following conclusions appeared regardless of the method used. First, twin correlations were always high, ranging from 0.44 to 0.90 in monozygotic (MZ) twins and from 0.34 to 0.83 in dizygotic (DZ) twins. Second, although there was evidence for heritable variation, the effects of common environment were almost always larger than the effects of heredity. Third, marital assortment was not of sufficient magnitude to account for these common environment effects. In the young adults in this sample, musical ability is influenced more by shared family environment than by shared genes.

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This research was supported in part by Grants HD-10333 and HD-18426 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The paper was written while Hilary Coon was under the support of Training Grant HD-07289 from the NICHD. Preparation of the paper was facilitated by Grant RR-07013-20 awarded to the University of Colorado by the Biomedical Research Support Grant Program, Division of Research Resources, National Institutes of Health.

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Coon, H., Carey, G. Genetic and environmental determinants of musical ability in twins. Behav Genet 19, 183–193 (1989).

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