Factors affecting pitch discrimination performance in a cohort of extensively phenotyped healthy volunteers.
Despite efforts to characterize the different aspects of musical abilities in humans, many elements of this complex area remain unknown. Musical abilities are known to be associated with factors like intelligence, training, and sex, but a comprehensive evaluation of the simultaneous impact of multiple factors has not yet been performed. Here, we assessed 918 healthy volunteers for pitch discrimination abilities-their ability to tell two tones close in pitch apart. We identified the minimal threshold that the participants could detect, and we found that better performance was associated with higher intelligence, East Asian ancestry, male sex, younger age, formal music training-especially before age 6-and English as the native language. All these factors remained significant when controlling for the others, with general intelligence, musical training, and male sex having the biggest impacts. We also performed a small GWAS and gene-based collapsing analysis, identifying no significant associations. Future genetic studies of musical abilities should involve large sample sizes and an unbiased genome-wide approach, with the factors highlighted here included as important covariates.
Smith, LM; Bartholomew, AJ; Burnham, LE; Tillmann, B; Cirulli, ET
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