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The genetics of music accomplishment: Evidence for gene–environment correlation and interaction

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Theories of skilled performance that emphasize training history, such as K. Anders Ericsson and colleagues’ deliberate-practice theory, have received a great deal of recent attention in both the scientific literature and the popular press. Twin studies, however, have demonstrated evidence for moderate-to-strong genetic influences on skilled performance. Focusing on musical accomplishment in a sample of over 800 pairs of twins, we found evidence for gene–environment correlation, in the form of a genetic effect on music practice. However, only about one quarter of the genetic effect on music accomplishment was explained by this genetic effect on music practice, suggesting that genetically influenced factors other than practice contribute to individual differences in music accomplishment. We also found evidence for gene–environment interaction, such that genetic effects on music accomplishment were most pronounced among those engaging in music practice, suggesting that genetic potentials for skilled performance are most fully expressed and fostered by practice.

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Author note

E.M.T.-D. and D.Z.H. jointly developed the study concept and drafted the paper. The data analysis was performed by E.M.T.-D. E.M.T.-D. was supported by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Grant No. R21-HD069772. The Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin is supported by NICHD Grant No. R24-HD042849.

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Correspondence to David Z. Hambrick.



Table 2 Parameter estimates for alternative bivariate models of practice and music accomplishment

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Hambrick, D.Z., Tucker-Drob, E.M. The genetics of music accomplishment: Evidence for gene–environment correlation and interaction. Psychon Bull Rev 22, 112–120 (2015).

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