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Genetic Correlates of Musical Pitch Recognition in Humans

Science  09 Mar 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5510, pp. 1969-1972
DOI: 10.1126/science.291.5510.1969

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Abstract

We used a twin study to investigate the genetic and environmental contributions to differences in musical pitch perception abilities in humans. We administered a Distorted Tunes Test (DTT), which requires subjects to judge whether simple popular melodies contain notes with incorrect pitch, to 136 monozygotic twin pairs and 148 dizygotic twin pairs. The correlation of DTT scores between twins was estimated at 0.67 for monozygotic pairs and 0.44 for dizygotic pairs. Genetic model-fitting techniques supported an additive genetic model, with heritability estimated at 0.71 to 0.80, depending on how subjects were categorized, and with no effect of shared environment. DTT scores were only weakly correlated with measures of peripheral hearing. This suggests that variation in musical pitch recognition is primarily due to highly heritable differences in auditory functions not tested by conventional audiologic methods.

  • Present address: Georgia Prevention Institute, Medical College of Georgia, Building HS-1640, Augusta, GA 30912, USA.

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