Defining the biological bases of individual differences in musicality
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Advances in molecular technologies make it possible to pinpoint genomic factors associated with complex human traits. For cognition and behaviour, identification of underlying genes provides new entry points for deciphering the key neurobiological pathways. In the past decade, the search for genetic correlates of musicality has gained traction. Reports have documented familial clustering for different extremes of ability, including amusia and absolute pitch (AP), with twin studies demonstrating high heritability for some music-related skills, such as pitch perception. Certain chromosomal regions have been linked to AP and musical aptitude, while individual candidate genes have been investigated in relation to aptitude and creativity. Most recently, researchers in this field started performing genome-wide association scans. Thus far, studies have been hampered by relatively small sample sizes and limitations in defining components of musicality, including an emphasis on skills that can only be assessed in trained musicians. With opportunities to administer standardized aptitude tests online, systematic large-scale assessment of musical abilities is now feasible, an important step towards high-powered genome-wide screens. Here, we offer a synthesis of existing literatures and outline concrete suggestions for the development of comprehensive operational tools for the analysis of musical phenotypes.
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