Listening To Music: It’s In Your Genes (Earth Current)

A fiddler on the porch of his farmhouse in Indiana; photo by J. Bruce Baumann

How many hours a week do you spend listening to your iPod? The answer you give to this question may depend on your genes. Scientists at the University of Helsinki have published a study in the Journal of Human Genetics linking a person’s willingness to listen to music to a specific genetic receptor. During the study, researchers quizzed members of 31 Finnish families about their music listening habits, including how much time they engaged in “passive” and “active” listening, took blood samples, and analyzed DNA. The results suggest that the way people listen to music may be tied to the AVPR1A gene, which has been linked to musical aptitude in other studies.

Variations in AVPR1A may also help explain why certain musical abilities such as absolute pitch and tone deafness run in families. And these differences aren’t just limited to humans. The AVPR1A gene, which is associated with social communication and attachment behavior, also affects vocalization in birds and influences breeding in lizards and fishes. Maybe music is even more universal than we thought.

For all the latest science news, check out our twice-weekly news rundown, Earth Current.

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