Music, defined as organized sound that produces effect, is common to all known cultures, and a new study suggests genetic underpinnings to some music-related behaviors.

Researchers were interested in studying the biological basis of music; they found that it is often hard-wired for many people.

For both animals and humans, music contains a message, an intention that reflects innate emotional state that is interpreted correctly even among different species.

In fact, several behavioral features in listening to music are closely related to attachment: lullabies are sung to infants to increase their attachment to a parent, and singing or playing music together is based on teamwork and may add group cohesion.

In the study at the University of Helsinki and Sibelius-Academy, Helsinki, the biological basis of music listening was examined. Data consisted of 31 Finnish families with 437 family members.

The participants of the study were 8 to 93 years old, from professional or amateur musicians to participants with no music education. To dissect listening habits further, active and passive listening of music were separately defined and surveyed using a questionnaire. Active listening was defined as attentively listening to music, including attending concerts.

Passive listening was defined as hearing or listening to music as background music. All participants were tested for musical aptitude using three music tests and a blood sample was taken for DNA analysis.

In the study, the participants reported weekly average active listening to music of 4.6 hours and passive listening to music of 7.3 hours. It was noted that music education, high music test scores and creativity in music tended to add active music listening.

Recent genetic studies have shown familial aggregation of tone deafness, absolute pitch, musical aptitude and creative functions in music.

This is one of the first studies where listening to music has been explored at molecular level, and the first study to show association between arginine vasopressin receptor 1A (AVPR1A) gene variants and listening to music.

Previously, an association between AVPR1A and musical aptitude had been reported. AVPR1A gene is a gene that has been associated with social communication and attachment behavior in human and other species. The results suggest biological contribution to sound perception (here listening to music), provide a molecular evidence of sound or music’s role in social communication, and tools for further studies on gene-culture evolution in music.

The study was published in the Journal of Human Genetics.

Source: University of Helsinki