Musical Instrument Engagement in Adolescence Predicts Verbal Ability Four Years Later: A Twin and Adoption Study Journal Article uri icon



  • Individual differences in music traits are heritable and correlated with the development of cognitive and communication skills, but little is known about whether diverse modes of music engagement (e.g., playing instruments vs. singing) reflect similar underlying genetic/environmental influences. Moreover, the biological etiology underlying the relationship between musicality and childhood language development is poorly understood. Here we explored genetic and environmental associations between music engagement and verbal ability in the Colorado Adoption/Twin Study of Lifespan behavioral development and cognitive aging (CATSLife) project. N=1684 adolescents completed measures of music engagement and intelligence at approximately age 12 and/or multiple tests of verbal ability at age 16. Structural equation models revealed that instrument engagement was highly heritable (a2=.78), with moderate heritabilities for singing (a2=.43) and dance engagement (a2=.66). Adolescent self-reported instrument engagement (but not singing or dance engagement) was genetically correlated with age 12 verbal intelligence, and still was associated with age 16 verbal ability even when controlling for age 12 full-scale intelligence, providing evidence for a longitudinal relationship between music engagement and language beyond shared general cognitive processes. Together, these novel findings suggest that shared genetic influences in part accounts for phenotypic associations between music engagement and language, but there may also be some (weak) direct benefits of music engagement on later language abilities.

publication date

  • January 18, 2021

has restriction

  • green

Date in CU Experts

  • September 13, 2022 3:15 AM

Full Author List

  • Gustavson DE; Friedman NP; Stallings M; Reynolds CA; Coon H; Corley RP; Hewitt JK; Gordon RL

author count

  • 8

Other Profiles