Nature or nurture study reveals musical genes

If you’ve ever wondered why a close group of friends might like completely different types of music, blame their genes. A study by Nokia into the musical tastes of nearly 4,000 twins reveals genetic influences on the music people like varies with genre.

While, on the whole, musical taste is determined just as much by nature as it is by specific individual experiences, nature’s influence is strongest on appreciation of pop, classical and hip-hop music, indicating some people may be born to love Michael Jackson, Beethoven or Jay-Z.

Nature’s influence is lowest on appreciation of folk and country, where family upbringing appears to play a role, so a CD collection full of Hank Williams, Dolly Parton and Joni Mitchell can’t necessarily be blamed on genetics.

In terms of natures influence, pop-, classical, rap and hip-hop get the biggest backing form Mother Earth at 53%, followed by jazz, blues and soul at 46%, rock, indie and heavy metal at 40% and country and folk at 24%.

The study, conducted by Nokia and Kings’ College London Department of Twin Research, investigated the listening habits of nearly 4,000 twins and looked at the influence of both genetic and environmental factors on musical taste.

“Previous studies have shown that perfect pitch ability appears to be partly inherent and with as much as 50% of our musical taste being predetermined, it appears there is a strong argument for the existence of ‘music genes'” says Adrian North, Professor of Psychology at Heriot Watt University.

As might be expected, genetic influences decrease over time as individual experiences becomes more important. Excluding country music, on average for the under 50s, genes have more influence (55%) than environmental factors (45%), whereas for the over 50s, the influence of individual specific environmental factors on a music collection increases to 60%.

Liz Schimel from Nokia commented: “Mobile phones are changing the way people experience music and, if we’re to give music fans the music they want, we need to know what fuels their passions. While technology doesn’t yet allow us to match DNA to playlists with Nokia Comes With Music service and millions of tracks in the Nokia Music Store, there’s something for every gene.”

While genetic influence on the music we like (55%) is clear, genes have a significantly lower influence (25%) on our motivations for listening to music. According to the research, listening habits are influenced by a desire to soundtrack our day, wanting to set a mood, or simply to enjoy the listening experience rather than any ‘play music now’ gene.