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The genetics of music accomplishment: Evidence for gene–environment correlation and interaction

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The genetics of music accomplishment: Evidence for gene–environment correlation and interaction

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Theories of skilled performance that emphasize training history, such as K. Anders Ericsson and colleagues' deliberate-practice theory, have received a great deal of recent attention in both the scientific literature and the popular press. Twin studies, however, have demonstrated evidence for moderate-to-strong genetic influences on skilled performance. Focusing on musical accomplishment in a sample of over 800 pairs of twins, we found evidence for gene-environment correlation, in the form of a genetic effect on music practice. However, only about one quarter of the genetic effect on music accomplishment was explained by this genetic effect on music practice, suggesting that genetically influenced factors other than practice contribute to individual differences in music accomplishment. We also found evidence for gene-environment interaction, such that genetic effects on music accomplishment were most pronounced among those engaging in music practice, suggesting that genetic potentials for skilled performance are most fully expressed and fostered by practice.
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BRIEF REPORT
The genetics of music accomplishment: Evidence for gene
environment correlation and interaction
David Z. Hambrick &Elliot M. Tucker-Drob
Published online: 24 June 2014
#Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014
Abstract Theories of skilled performance that emphasize
training history, such as K. Anders Ericsson and colleagues
deliberate-practice theory, have received a great deal of recent
attention in both the scientific literature and the popular press.
Twin studies, however, have demonstrated evidence for
moderate-to-strong genetic influences on skilled performance.
Focusing on musical accomplishment in a sample of over 800
pairs of twins, we found evidence for geneenvironment
correlation, in the form of a genetic effect on music practice.
However, only about one quarter of the genetic effect on
music accomplishment was explained by this genetic effect
on music practice, suggesting that genetically influenced fac-
tors other than practice contribute to individual differences in
music accomplishment. We also found evidence for gene
environment interaction, such that genetic effects on music
accomplishment were most pronounced among those engag-
ing in music practice, suggesting that genetic potentials for
skilled performance are most fully expressed and fostered by
practice.
Keywords Music .Talent .Genetics .Skill .Individual
differences
People vary widely in their skill at complex tasks such as
playing musical instruments, choosing moves in chess games,
and formulating scientific theories. Some people are better
much betterat these tasks than other people. What accounts
for this striking variability? As we have recently discussed
(Hambrick et al., 2014; Macnamara, Hambrick, & Oswald,
2014), there are two classical views. One view is that experts
are born”—that innate ability puts a limit on the ultimate
level of performance that a person can reach through training.
Sir Francis Galton (1869) proposed this view on the basis of
his finding that eminence in a wide range of fields runs in
families. The other view is that experts are made”—that
individual differences in performance can be explained in
terms of training history. John Watson (1930) captured this
view when he commented that practicing . . . is probably the
most reasonable explanation we have today not only for
success in any line, but even for genius(p. 212).
More recently, K. Anders Ericsson and colleagues proposed
that expert performance reflects a long period of deliberate
practice. In a now famous study, Ericsson, Krampe, and
Tesch-Römer (1993) asked elite musicians to estimate the
amount of time that they had engaged in deliberate practice.
By age 20, elite musicians had accumulated an average of about
10,000 hours, which was thousands of hours more than averages
for less-accomplished musicians. Ericsson et al. concluded:
We agree that expert performance is qualitatively differ-
ent from normal performance and even that expert per-
formers have characteristics and abilities that are quali-
tatively different from or at least outside the range of
those of normal adults. However, we deny that these
differences are immutable, that is, due to innate talent.
Only a few exceptions, most notably height, are genet-
ically prescribed. (p. 400, emphasis added)
Ericsson and colleagues have consistently interpreted evi-
dence for greater environmental than genetic contributions to
individual differences in performance as critical support for
their view. As a few examples, Ericsson et al. (1993) noted the
finding of larger environmental than genetic effects on music
D. Z. Hambrick (*)
Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing,
MI 48824, USA
e-mail: hambric3@gmail.com
E. M. Tucker-Drob
Department of Psychology and Population Research Center,
University of Texas at Austin, 108 E. Dean Keeton Stop A8000,
Austin, TX 78712-1043, USA
e-mail: tuckerdrob@utexas.edu
Psychon Bull Rev (2015) 22:112120
DOI 10.3758/s13423-014-0671-9
performance in a twin study (Coon & Carey, 1989), the
finding of no meaningful resemblance in physical ability
between Olympians and their parents in another study (de
Garay, Levine, & Carter, 1974), and the finding that tennis
performance in adolescents was largely determined by
parental support in a third study (Schneider, Bös, &
Rieder, 1993).
There is no doubt that deliberate practice makes an impor-
tant contribution to individual differences in performance.
Positive correlations between deliberate practice and perfor-
mance have been observed in many domains (see Ericsson,
2006). However, growing evidence is indicating that the
amount of deliberate practice is not sufficient to explain
individual differences in performance. Gobet and Campitelli
(2007) found a large range of estimated deliberate practice
among similarly skilled chess players (e.g., from 832 to
24,284 hours of deliberate practice for chess masters). More
recently, in a meta-analysis of 88 studies, Macnamara et al.
(2014) found that deliberate practice accounted for well under
half of the variance in performance in each of the major
domains in which deliberate practice has been studiedmu-
sic, games, sports, education, and professions (see also
Hambrick et al., 2014).
Furthermore, behavioral genetic analyses indicate that non-
trivial proportions of individual differences in performance are
associated with genetic factors. For example, although
Ericsson et al. (1993)emphasizedCoonandCareys(1989)
finding of a larger environmental than genetic contribution to
music performance, heritability estimates in that study were
far from trivial, averaging 30 %. As another example,
Vinkhuyzen, van der Sluis, Posthuma, and Boomsma (2009)
reported heritability estimates in the range from 50 to 92 % for
self-reports of exceptional skill in chess, music, and other
domains.
Geneenvironment interplay
Researchers employing behavioral genetic methods have paid
increasing attention to two forms of geneenvironment inter-
play (Plomin, DeFries, & Loehlin, 1977): geneenvironment
correlation (rGE), which occurs when people experience
different environments as systematic functions of their genetic
differences rather than at random, and Gene ×Environment
interaction (G × E), which occurs when the magnitude of
genetic influence on an outcome varies as a function of the
type or amount of environmental experience. Geneenviron-
ment interplay has been characterized as being key to recon-
ciliation between stark genetic and environmental accounts of
behavioral development (Rutter, 2007).
There is strong reason to expect that both rGE and G × E
operate in acquiring skill. rGE would occur if exposure to the
experiences relevant to becoming highly skilled in a domain
(e.g., deliberate practice) were influenced by genetically
influenced traits, such as aptitudes, motivations, and
preferences. Galton (1869) alluded to this possibility when
he proposed that people differ in their innate capacity for
doing a great deal of very laborious work(p. 37), as did
Ericsson et al. (1993) when they speculated that any genetic
effects on performance could be due to genetic effects on
factors related to the propensity to engage in deliberate
practice.
G × E would occur if the magnitude of the genetic influ-
ence on performance was either enhanced or diminished as a
function of practice. Ericsson et al. (1993) alluded to this
possibility when they claimed that general cognitive ability,
which is genetically influenced, is predictive of performance
in the initial stages of skill acquisition, but then loses its
predictive power (see also Ericsson, 2014). Alternatively,
one might expect the opposite: that genetic contributions to
individual differences in performance would be magnified by
prolonged practice (Bronfenbrenner & Ceci, 1994; Tucker-
Drob, Briley & Harden, 2013). For instance, in addition to
practice activating otherwise dormant genes that all healthy
childrens DNA contain(Ericsson, 2007, p. 4, emphasis
added), it may activate otherwise dormant genes, variants of
which differ across individuals.
Present study
Our analyses addressed three questions using the National
Merit Twin Sample. First, what are the sample-average genet-
ic and environmental effects on music practice and music
accomplishment? We used the same sample that Coon and
Carey (1989) had used, and thus expected to replicate their
finding of a genetic effect onmusic accomplishment. Here, we
asked whether we would also find evidence for rGE, in the
form of a genetic effect on music practice.
Second, to what extent are genetic effects on music accom-
plishment mediated by music practice? The finding that ge-
netic effects on music accomplishment were completely me-
diated by music practice would suggest that it is possible to
completely account for genetic effects on performance in
terms of factors related to the propensity to engage in practice
(Ericsson et al., 1993). The finding of genetic effects on music
accomplishment, even after controlling for music practice,
would suggest that genetically influenced factors impact per-
formance directly (e.g., abilities, aptitudes).
Finally, is there evidence for G × E, such that genetic
effects on music accomplishment differ by level of music
practice? The finding that genetic effects on music accom-
plishment are diminished by practice would support the hy-
pothesis that genetic differences only matter for practice-naïve
music aptitude, but become overwhelmed by practice
(Ericsson et al., 1993). The finding that genetic effects
Psychon Bull Rev (2015) 22:112120 113
increase as practice increases would instead suggest that ge-
netic potentials for music accomplishment are expressed and
fostered by practice.
Method
Sample
Data from the National Merit Twin Study (NMTS) were
obtained from the Henry A. Murray Research Archive at
Harvard University (www.murray.harvard.edu/). The NMTS
sample consisted of 850 same-sex twin pairs who sat for the
National Merit Scholarship test in 1962 as high school juniors
(i.e., age 17 years, on average), and returned self-report psy-
chosocial surveys and a parent survey in 1963. The sample
included 354 male pairs (61.3 % monozygotic) and 496
female twin pairs (59.9 % monozygotic). Further
information can be found in Loehlin and Nichols (1976).
Since we were performing a secondary data analysis of the
NMTS sample, the number of participants was determined by
the sample size available in the existing data set. Zygosity was
assessed using a physical similarity questionnaire (Nichols &
Bilbro, 1966).
Primary measures
For the present project, we made use of variables from the
self-report survey that are reflective of music practice and
music accomplishment.
Music practice Each twin indicated whether he or she prac-
ticed on a musical instrumentfrequently, occasionally, or not
at all. Our behavioral genetic decompositions of practice
treated it as an ordered trichotomous variable. Of the 1,676
individuals who responded to this question, 357 indicated that
they practiced occasionally, and 326 indicated that they prac-
ticed frequently. The polychoric correlation for music practice
was .81 for the monozygotic twins and .62 for the dizygotic
twins.
Music accomplishment Seven items were related to music
accomplishment: Items 14, Received a rating of Goodor
Excellentin a [national, regional, city or county, or school]
music contest;Item5,Composed music which has been
given at least one public performance;Item6,Performed
with a professional orchestra; and Item 7, Directed
(publicly) a band or orchestra.The numbers of positive
endorsements for the seven items were 19, 175, 90, 81, 17,
27, and 35, respectively. Because these accomplishments were
very low to moderate in frequency, we chose to model accom-
plishment as a dichotomous variable for which individuals
who endorsed at least one of the seven items positively were
considered to have attained a music accomplishment. Of the
1,677 individuals who responded to these items, 269 had
attained a music accomplishment, 50 of whom indicated that
they practiced on a musical instrument not at all.The
polychoric correlations for music accomplishment were .88
for monozygotic twins and .75 for dizygotic twins.
(We considered whether it would be feasible to model
music accomplishment in a more continuous fashion.
Because a sum score of total accomplishments would still
contain a large number of zeros, it would be inappropriate to
apply ordinary linear estimation methods to such a variable.
One alternative that we considered was a zero-inflated Poisson
approach, which is used to model count data with an excess of
zeros. However, such an approach is computationally difficult
to estimate as part of a twin model, and is in practice very
close to the approach that we adopted, since it estimates two
regression equations, one of which models taking on a non-
zero value, and the other of which models the nonzero value.
Since we were specifically interested in whether a music
accomplishment had been attained, as opposed to the number
of accomplishments attained beyond zero, our decision to
simply model the dichotomous outcome was appropriate.)
The polychoric correlation between practice and accom-
plishment was .65, which is similar to the correlations be-
tween practice and objective measures of skilled performance
observed in other studies of music (see Hambrick et al., 2014).
Thus, although our measures of practice and accomplishment
were from self-report, there was evidence for their validity.
Measure for sensitivity analysis
We sought to test whether our G × E findings would apply
specifically to individuals who took private music lessons, but
nevertheless differed in their amounts of reported practice. The
parent questionnaire included information on whether each
twin ever took private piano, voice or other music lessons.
(Do not include music instruction in school).Concordance on
music lessons was 95 % for monozygotic twins and 90 % for
dizygotic twins. In total, the parents of 394 pairs reported that
both twins took music lessons. Of these, 254 individuals re-
ported that they practiced frequently, 242 individuals reported
that they practiced occasionally, and 291 individuals reported
that they did not practice at all (there was one missing value).
Analytic approach
Our analytic approach made use of behavioral genetic struc-
tural equation models for categorical outcomes in Mplus
version 7.1 (Muthén & Muthén, 19982012)topartition
variation in both music practice and music accomplishment
into three variance components: (additive) genetic factors (A)
that make more genetically related individuals more similar;
shared environmental factors (C) that make children raised in
114 Psychon Bull Rev (2015) 22:112120
the same family more similar to one another, regardless of
genetic relatedness; and nonshared environmental factors (E)
that differentiate children raised in the same family (Prescott,
2004). These models make use of information about the
resemblance (e.g., intraclass correlation, or in the case of
categorical data, polychoric correlation) of twins to one an-
other on a phenotype of interest (e.g., music accomplishment)
and of whether this resemblance differs as a function of
zygosity.
The extent to which monozygotic twins (who share nearly
100 % of their genes) are more similar in their phenotypes
than dizygotic twins (who share approximately 50 % of their
genes, on average) is informative about the extent to which the
phenotype is heritable. The extent to which twins reared
together are more similar to one another in their phenotypes
than can be explained by the heritability estimate is informa-
tive about the extent to which shared environmental factors
influence the phenotype. This basic model could be extended
to examine whether the same genetic and environmental fac-
tors affect two different phenotypes (e.g., practice and accom-
plishment) and to examine the extent to which the heritability
of a phenotype (e.g., accomplishment) differs as a function of
an experiential variable (e.g., practice).
Results
To reiterate, we addressed three questions: First, what are the
sample-average genetic and environmental effects on music
practice and music accomplishment? Second, to what extent
are genetic effects on music accomplishment mediated by
music practice? Third, to what extent do genetic effects on
music accomplishment differ by level of music practice?
What are the sample-average genetic and environmental
effects on music practice and music accomplishment?
The results of our univariate behavioral genetic models indi-
cated that for music accomplishment, genetic variation
accounted for 26 %, shared environmental variation
accounted for 61 %, and nonshared environmental variation
accounted for 12 % of the variation (all ps < .001). For
practice, these estimates were 38 %, 44 %, and 19 %, respec-
tively (all ps < .001).
To what extent are genetic effects on music accomplishment
mediated by music practice?
We examined the extent to which music practice mediated the
genetic influences on music accomplishment. We began by
testing between alternative bivariate models of the practice
accomplishment association. The Cholesky model (top panel
of Fig. 1) represents a situation in which the genetic and
environmental factors (A
1
,C
1
,andE
1
)associatedwithmusic
practice also directly affect music accomplishment. The asso-
ciation between music practice and music accomplishment is
represented as occurring through third-variable causation.
The direct-effect model (middle panel of Fig. 1)representsa
situation in which music practice itself is directly associated
with accomplishment, such that music practice acts as a me-
diator of some of the genetic and environmental influences on
music accomplishment.
The Cholesky model is a more complex model than the
direct-effect model, because it requires the estimation of three
parameters (a
b
,c
b
,ande
b
) to account for the shared variance
between music practice and music accomplishment, whereas
the direct-effect model only requires the estimation of one
parameter (b) to account for this shared variance. The models
are nested within one another, so comparison of their fits can
be used to assess whether the Cholesky model is necessary to
account for data, or whether the more parsimonious direct-
effect model is sufficient. We can also compare intermediate,
hybrid, models to the Cholesky and direct-effect models. Such
models would allow for a direct effect of music practice on
music accomplishment, but also for third-variable causation
by either shared environmental or genetic influences.
Parameter estimates and standard errors for the four alter-
native bivariate models ofpractice and music accomplishment
are reported in the Appendix. The results of our model com-
parisons are presented in Table 1. The direct-effect + C third-
variable effectmodel fit no worse than the Cholesky model,
and significantly better than the direct-effect model, and was
therefore accepted as the best representation of the data. This
model, presented in the bottom panel of Fig. 1,indicatesa
direct association between practice and music accomplish-
ment, above and beyond family-level environmental effects
shared between the two.
We used this final model to calculate the extent to which
music practice mediated the genetic and environmental effects
on music accomplishment. The top panel of Fig. 2depicts the
regression effects of genes, the shared environment, and the
nonshared environment on music accomplishment that are
mediated by music practice, confounded with music practice,
and unique of music practice, and these indicate a mediated
genetic effect of .248 (calculated as a
1
×bi.e., .613 × .404)
in standardized regression units.
Unique genetic influences, independent of practice, are
also evident on accomplishment, and are .450 standardized
regression units in magnitude. The bottom panel of Fig. 2
expresses the shared and unique effects on practice in terms of
proportions of variance (R
2
), rather than regression effects.
Note that the shared effects include both mediated effects
(e.g., a
1
×b) and confounded effects (e.g., a
u
;R
2
cannot be
cleanly partitioned in mediation models in the way that re-
gression effects can).
Psychon Bull Rev (2015) 22:112120 115
To what extent do genetic effects on music accomplishment
differ by levels of music practice?
To test for G × E, we examined whether the magnitudes
of genetic and environmental influences differed for indi-
viduals who reported no music practice at all to the
magnitudes of such influences for individuals who report-
ed occasional or frequent music practice. Statistically
significant interactions were detected on the genetic and
shared environmental contributions to music accomplish-
ment. Genetic effects on accomplishment were stronger
for children who reported practicing (43 %, p<.01)than
for those who reported not practicing (1 %, p=.83),and
shared environmental effects were stronger for children
who reported not practicing (86 %, p< .01) than for
Fig. 1 The Cholesky model (top panel) represents a situation in which
the genetic and environmental factors (A
1
,C
1
,andE
1
) associated with
music practice also directly affect music accomplishment. The direct-
effect model (middle panel) represents a situation in which music practice
itself is directly associated with accomplishment, such that music practice
acts as a mediator of some of the geneticand environmental influences on
music accomplishment. The model fitting led us to endorse a hybrid
model (bottom panel) that included a direct association between practice
and music accomplishment above and beyond family-level environmen-
tal effects shared between the two
Tabl e 1 Comparison of bivariate quantitative genetic models of practice
and accomplishment
Model Vs. Cholesky
(Least restrictive
model)
Vs. Direct effect
(Most restrictive
model)
Cholesky p=.08
Direct effect p=.08
Direct effect + C Third-
variable effect
p=.316 p=.003
Direct effect + A Third-
variable effect
p=.0047 p=.303
116 Psychon Bull Rev (2015) 22:112120
children who reported practicing (43 %, p< .01). In other
words, the difference in the heritability of accomplish-
mentbetweenthosewhopracticedandthosewhodid
not was 42 % (p= .015), and the difference in the shared
environmentality of accomplishment between those who
practiced and those who did not was 43 % (p= .015).
These results, which are presented in Fig. 3,indicatethat
music practice is associated with the expression of genetic
influences on music accomplishment.
Sensitivity analysis
One explanation for the Gene × Practice interactions obtained
above is that practice is a proxy for musical lessons. Because
practice varied widely even among students who took lessons,
we could investigate this possibility by testing for a Gene ×
Practice interaction in the subsample of students who took
lessons. If the Gene × Practice interaction were evident in this
subsample of students, this would suggest that it is the act of
practice, rather than the experience of taking music lessons,
that interacts with genes to affect music accomplishment.
The results revealed that genetic effects on accomplishment
were stronger for children who reported practicing (59 %, p<
.01) than for those who reported not practicing (1 %, p=.80).
Moreover, the shared environmental effect was stronger for
children who reported not practicing (76 %, p<.01)thanfor
children who reported practicing (27 %, p=.015).Inother
words, the difference in the heritability of accomplishment
Genes Shared Environment Nonshared Environment
Proportion of Variance
0.0
0.1
0.2
0.3
0.4
0.5
0.6
0.7
Shared with Practice
Unique of Practice
Genes Shared Environment Nonshared Environment
Regression Effect
0.0
0.1
0.2
0.3
0.4
0.5
0.6
0.7
0.8
Mediated By Practice
Confounded With Practice
Unique of Practice
Fig. 2 (Top ) Standardized regression effects of genes, the shared envi-
ronment, and the nonshared environment on music accomplishment that
are mediated by music practice, confounded with music practice, and
unique of music practice. (Bottom) Proportions of variance in music
accomplishment that is either shared or unique of practice. Note that
shared effects include both mediated and confounded effects
Psychon Bull Rev (2015) 22:112120 117
between those who practiced and those who did not was 58 %
(p< .01), and the difference in the shared environmentality of
accomplishment between those who practiced and those who
did not was 49 % (p= .059). Thus, the Gene × Practice
interaction not only persisted, but strengthened, when analy-
ses were restricted to participants who took lessons.
Discussion
In the first study of its kind, we investigated geneenviron-
ment correlation (rGE) and Gene × Environment interaction
(G × E) with respect to musical accomplishment. In addition
to population-level genetic effects on music accomplishment
(h
2
= .26), we found even stronger genetic effects on music
practice (h
2
= .38). Genetic effects on music practice are
noteworthy, given that practice is conventionally conceptual-
ized as an environmental variable. How might genes get
outside of the skinto affect music practice? It is likely that
genetically influenced penchants and/or aptitudes for music
could lead children to dedicate themselves to music practice,
whereas children lacking such genetically influenced pen-
chants and aptitudes for music might quit practicing early
on, or never even begin. Similarly, children with penchants
and aptitudes for music might evoke reinforcement from
parents and teachers, leading them to be (even more) motivat-
ed to practice. Finally, genetic effects on practice could reflect
personality or motivational factors (e.g., general activity level;
Ericsson et al., 1993) related to the propensity to engage in
sustained practice.
Furthermore, although practice was moderately heritable,
genetic influences on practice only mediated a small portion
of the genetic effects on music accomplishment. Indeed, after
controlling for practice, over three quarters of the genetic
variance in music accomplishment remained. Thus, our results
indicate that although genetically influenced propensities to-
ward engaging in practice may account for some of the genetic
influences on music accomplishment (Ericsson et al., 1993),
they are not sufficient to explain all of the genetic influences
on accomplishment. These large residual genetic influences
on accomplishment may reflect a host of other genetically
influenced factors, such as musical aptitude or basic abilities.
Finally, practice magnified the genetic effects on music
accomplishment. One might have expected that practice
would attenuate genetic effects on music accomplishment,
such that genetic differences would only matter for practice-
naïve music aptitude and would become overwhelmed by
practice (see Ericsson et al., 1993). Instead, our results are
most consistent with the hypothesis that genetic potentials for
music accomplishment are most fully expressed and fostered
by practice, even when analyses were limited to participants
Fig. 3 Results of our G × E analyses. (Left) Multiple-group path diagram
of the genetic (A), shared environmental (C), and nonshared environmen-
tal (E) effects on the music accomplishment of individuals who reported
no music practice at all and of individuals who reported occasional or
frequent music practice. (Right) Proportions of variance in music accom-
plishment attributable to genetic, shared environmental, and nonshared
environmental factors
118 Psychon Bull Rev (2015) 22:112120
who had received music lessons. It is somewhat surprising
that, though they were relatively few in number (about 3 % of
the total sample), some participants reported no practice, and
yet indicated that they had a musical accomplishment. These
participants could have acquired a high enough level of skill
for a musical accomplishment through music lessons alone, or
through playing for enjoyment rather than through practicing.
It is also possible that some of these participants had practiced
in the past, but had stopped before accumulating enough
practice to foster the expression of genes related to music
performance.
Whatever the case, including students with no practice in
our initial behavioral genetic analysis led to attenuation of the
effect of genes on music accomplishment. Many of these
students may have had strong aptitudes for music that went
unrealized as a result of lack of access or dedication to music
training and/or practice. It is possible that among students who
continued to practice routinely over early adulthood, genetic
influences on music accomplishment would continue to
strengthen and magnify, similar to how genetic influences on
cognition increase over development (Briley & Tucker-Drob,
2013).
Limitations and future directions
Our measures of both accomplishment and practice were
fairly coarse. Future research should measure practice along
multiple continuous dimensions to index both frequency and
intensity, and should develop and apply quantitative indices of
musical accomplishment that index not just whether an ac-
complishment has been achieved, but also the degree of
achievement. We might expect geneenvironment correlation
to occur for each of these features of practice, such that genes
account for variation in intensity of practice, in addition to the
frequency or amount of practice. Additionally, although it is
interesting and important in its own right, accomplishment is
likely to be closely related to, but not equivalent to, skill level,
which might be best indexed using standardized measures or
objective rating scales. Future research should measure both
accomplishment and skill in musicians. In developing more
sensitive multidimensional measures, efforts to make use of
rating systems and objective tests, rather than simple self-
report scales, would be particularly valuable. Importantly,
these limitations apply to research on skilled performance
generally, and not simply to the present behavioralgenetic
investigation.
Another limitation concerns the nature of the sample.
Although the participants in the National Merit Twin Study
were likely to be a positively selected group of high-achieving
students, they were not specifically selected to contain world-
class music experts. Thus, the degree to which the present
results would generalize to the highest levels of performance
is unknown. Future genetically informative research on a
special population of professional musicians would be neces-
sary to understand the interplay between genetics, practice,
and exceptional music performance.
Conclusions
The present investigation produced evidence for both gene
environment correlation and interaction in the association
between music practice and music accomplishment. We found
statistically significant, and moderate-in-magnitude, genetic
effects on practice that mediated approximately one quarter
of the genetic effects on music accomplishment at the popu-
lation level. Moreover, rather than reducing the effects of
genetic variation on individual differences in music accom-
plishment, practice magnified such effects. These results in-
dicate that children who do not engage in training or practice
in music may have hidden talents, or at the very least poten-
tials for talent, that go unrecognized and unrealized.
Author note E.M.T.-D. and D.Z.H. jointly developed the study con-
cept and drafted the paper. The data analysis was performed by E.M.T.-D.
E.M.T.-D. was supported by National Institute of Child Health and
Human Development (NICHD) Grant No. R21-HD069772. The Popu-
lation Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin is supported
by NICHD Grant No. R24-HD042849.
Appendix
Tabl e 2 Parameter estimates for alternative bivariate models of practice
and music accomplishment
Va r i ab l e bSEASE CSE ESE
Cholesky
Practice .615 .096 .66 .087 .432 .035
Practice Music .235 .238 .661 .177 .181 .088
Music .456 .150 .421 .247 .299 .069
Direct effect
Practice .563 .109 .709 .087 .424 .035
Practice Music .679 .049
Music .342 .19 .618 .097 .197 .091
Direct effect+ C Third-variable effect
Practice .613 .101 .661 .091 .432 .036
Practice Music .404 .096 .385 .137
Music .450 .14 .435 .146 .302 .059
Direct effect + A Third-variable effect
Practice .580 .101 .696 .083 .424 .035
Practice Music .765 .218 .132 .363
Music .313 .278 .591 .149 .259 .130
SE Standard error
Psychon Bull Rev (2015) 22:112120 119
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... For the first time, we showed that singing ability is heritable to a degree consistent with music genetics and behavioral genetics research (Butkovic et al., 2015;Hambrick and Tucker-Drob, 2015;Mosing et al., 2014b;Polderman et al., 2015;Ullé n et al., 2014). In a recent meta-analysis of behavioral genetics studies spanning 50 years, Polderman et al. (2015) showed that the average heritability of human traits is approximately 49%. ...
... In a recent meta-analysis of behavioral genetics studies spanning 50 years, Polderman et al. (2015) showed that the average heritability of human traits is approximately 49%. For musical traits, perceptual processes such as pitch perception (h 2 = 38-51%) Seesjä rvi et al., 2016;Ullé n et al., 2014), and tune recognition (h 2 = 59-80%) (Drayna et al., 2001;Mosing et al., 2014b;Ullé n et al., 2014) are also moderately heritable, along with the propensity to practice (h 2 = 38-70%) (Butkovic et al., 2015;Hambrick and Tucker-Drob, 2015;Mosing et al., 2014a) and attain music achievements (h 2 = 55-57% in males, 9-13% in females) Wesseldijk et al., 2019). Notably, our heritability estimate is consistent with the sole previous study using vocal pitch-matching that reported 40% heritability (Park et al., 2012). ...
... Importantly, Wesseldijk et al. (2019) showed that measures of a musically-enriched childhood correlate with achievements in music and that heritability of musical achievement increases with higher mean levels of musical enrichment. Relatedly, Hambrick and Tucker-Drob (2015) found that the heritability of accomplishment was greater in twins who engaged in regular practice, which in turn has a heritable component (Butkovic et al., 2015;Hambrick and Tucker-Drob, 2015;Mosing et al., 2014a). In the case of pitch-accurate singing, our findings suggest that a genetic predisposition may be more likely expressed when an individual is exposed to an early enriched singing and musical environment, potentially leading to changes in the neural networks underpinning singing (Wilson et al., 2011) that may occur through interactions between genes and early environments. ...
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Singing ability is a complex human skill influenced by genetic and environmental factors, the relative contributions of which remain unknown. Currently, genetically informative studies using objective measures of singing ability across a range of tasks are limited. We administered a validated online singing tool to measure performance across three everyday singing tasks in Australian twins (n = 1189) to explore the relative genetic and environmental influences on singing ability. We derived a reproducible phenotypic index for singing ability across five performance measures of pitch and interval accuracy. Using this index we found moderate heritability of singing ability (h² = 40.7%) with a striking, similar contribution from shared environmental factors (c² = 37.1%). Childhood singing in the family home and being surrounded by music early in life both significantly predicted the phenotypic index. Taken together, these findings show that singing ability is equally influenced by genetic and shared environmental factors.
... Considered cumulatively, an emerging theoretical framework suggests that associations between musicality and language skills could be driven by genetic correlations (Ladányi et al., 2020;Schellenberg, 2019). First, family-based approaches (primarily twin studies) have shown moderate heritability of musicality across objective and subjective measures, including music perception, achievement, interest, and practice habits in adolescents and adults (Coon & Carey, 1989;Hambrick & Tucker-Drob, 2015;Ullén et al., 2014;Vinkhuyzen et al., 2009). Careful exploration of the heritability of musicality and traits related to it with twin modeling is important groundwork for future work that could elucidate the molecular basis of these processes (Gingras et al., 2015). ...
... Our initial results demonstrated that musical instrument engagement was highly heritable. The estimate of 78% is slightly higher than heritability estimates for other music traits (Butkovic et al., 2015; Hambrick & Tucker-Drob, 2015;Seesjärvi et al., 2016). Our higher estimates may be due to the latent variable approach, which typically yields higher heritability estimates because measurement error is modeled as part of the estimate of nonshared environmental influences on individual measures. ...
... In summary, these results complement prior work on the genetics of music aptitude, practice habits, and achievement (Butkovic et al., 2015;Coon & Carey, 1989;Hambrick & Tucker-Drob, 2015;Seesjärvi et al., 2016). They also demonstrate the validity of domain-type music engagement factors that encompasses interest, lessons, and skill separately for each type of musical involvement (vocal, instrumental, dance). ...
Article
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 & cognitive aging (CATSLife). Adolescents (N = 1,684) 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 heritability of 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. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).
... For example, twin studies show that many speech-language traits are moderately heritable, as summarized in Table 1. Similarly, twin and family-based studies show that musical abilities (e.g., pitch and rhythm sensitivity) have a significant genetic component (Seesjärvi et al., 2016;Ullén et al., 2014;Drayna et al., 2001), as does musical engagement, including accomplishment and training (Hambrick & Tucker-Drob, 2014), as summarized in Table 2. Emerging evidence also finds that both musical aptitude and engagement are genetically associated with language-related traits such as verbal ability (Gustavson et al., 2021;Wesseldijk et al., 2021). ...
... In contrast, the presence of shared or nonshared environmental correlations could indicate that associations are driven by environmental exposures, potentially including causal relationships, though there are other ways of testing for causal associations in the context of a twin model (Heath et al., 1993). Twin and family studies can also test for the presence of gene-environmental correlations and gene-by-environment interactions, which appear highly relevant for musical traits (Hambrick & Tucker-Drob, 2014;Wesseldijk et al., 2019). These studies have demonstrated that individual differences in music achievement are more pronounced in those who engage in practice or had musically enriched childhood environments. ...
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Using individual differences approaches, a growing body of literature finds positive associations between musicality and language-related abilities, complementing prior findings of links between musical training and language skills. Despite these associations, musicality has been often overlooked in mainstream models of individual differences in language acquisition and development. To better understand the biological basis of these individual differences, we propose the Musical Abilities, Pleiotropy, Language, and Environment (MAPLE) framework. This novel integrative framework posits that musical and language-related abilities likely share some common genetic architecture (i.e., genetic pleiotropy) in addition to some degree of overlapping neural endophenotypes, and genetic influences on musically and linguistically enriched environments. Drawing upon recent advances in genomic methodologies for unraveling pleiotropy, we outline testable predictions for future research on language development and how its underlying neurobiological substrates may be supported by genetic pleiotropy with musicality. In support of the MAPLE framework, we review and discuss findings from over seventy behavioral and neural studies, highlighting that musicality is robustly associated with individual differences in a range of speech-language skills required for communication and development. These include speech perception-in-noise, prosodic perception, morphosyntactic skills, phonological skills, reading skills, and aspects of second/foreign language learning. Overall, the current work provides a clear agenda and framework for studying musicality-language links using individual differences approaches, with an emphasis on leveraging advances in the genomics of complex musicality and language traits.
... The issue is further complicated because music training is associated with demographic, personality, and cognitive variables during childhood, when training typically occurs, as well as in adulthood after training has stopped (Corrigall et al., 2013). Moreover, evidence from twin studies documents a genetic component to musical achievement (Hambrick & Tucker-Drob, 2015), musical ability (Mosing et al., 2014), choice of musical instrument and genre (Mosing & Ullén, 2018), practicing music (Hambrick & Tucker-Drob, 2015;Mosing et al., 2014), and the link between musical ability and general cognitive ability (Mosing et al., 2016). These preexisting and extraneous individual differences in musical and nonmusical variables ensure that musically trained individuals are a poor model for the study of transfer or plasticity, despite claims to the contrary (e.g., Steele & Zatorre, 2018). ...
... The issue is further complicated because music training is associated with demographic, personality, and cognitive variables during childhood, when training typically occurs, as well as in adulthood after training has stopped (Corrigall et al., 2013). Moreover, evidence from twin studies documents a genetic component to musical achievement (Hambrick & Tucker-Drob, 2015), musical ability (Mosing et al., 2014), choice of musical instrument and genre (Mosing & Ullén, 2018), practicing music (Hambrick & Tucker-Drob, 2015;Mosing et al., 2014), and the link between musical ability and general cognitive ability (Mosing et al., 2016). These preexisting and extraneous individual differences in musical and nonmusical variables ensure that musically trained individuals are a poor model for the study of transfer or plasticity, despite claims to the contrary (e.g., Steele & Zatorre, 2018). ...
Article
We sought to clarify the commonly accepted link between music training and cognitive ability. Professional musicians, nonprofessionals with music training, and musically untrained individuals (N = 642) completed measures of musical ability, personality, and general cognitive ability. Professional musicians scored highest on objective and self-report measures of musical ability. On personality measures, professional musicians and musically trained participants scored similarly but higher than untrained participants on agreeableness, openness-to-experience, and the personality metatrait stability. The professionals scored higher than the other 2 groups on extraversion and the metatrait engagement. On cognitive ability, however, they were indistinguishable from untrained participants. Instead, musically trained nonprofessionals exhibited the highest cognitive ability. In short, professional musicians differed from other individuals in musical ability and personality, but not in cognitive ability. We conclude that music training predicts higher cognitive ability only among individuals who do not become professional musicians and offer possible explanations.
... Stated differently, with increasing specialization or expertise, one might assume stronger genetic effects for talent development. For example, in the domain of music, Hambrick and Tucker-Drob (2015) found that genetic effects on music accomplishment were stronger among adolescents who engaged in music practice, compared with adolescents who reported not practicing; this finding suggests that genetic effects for skilled performance increase with practice. Moreover, Vinkhuyzen, van der Sluis, Posthuma, and Boomsma (2009) analyzed data from multiple achievement domains and found stronger genetic evidence for exceptional achievement in a specific domain, compared with average achievement. ...
... While the deliberate practice theory claims that the accumulation of hours of practice is the sole determinant of expert performance (Ericsson et al., 1993), others have shown practice alone to be insufficient to explain individual differences in ability Hambrick et al., 2016;Kragness et al., 2020;Macnamara et al., 2014;Macnamara & Maitra, 2019;. Studies highlight the importance of psychological factors such as personality traits (Butkovic et al., 2015;Corrigall et al., 2013;Corrigall & Schellenberg, 2015) and cognitive ability (Corrigall et al., 2013;Lynn et al., 1989;Meinz & Hambrick, 2010;Mosing et al., 2019;Schellenberg & Weiss, 2013;Sergeant & Vhatcher, 1974;Swaminathan & Schellenberg, 2018;, as well as the role of genetic factors (Hambrick & Tucker-Drob, 2015;Kragness et al., 2020;Ullén et al., 2016;Ullén et al., 2014) in skill acquisition. ...
Article
Full-text available
The relationship between pitch-naming ability and childhood onset of music training is well established and thought to reflect both genetic predisposition and music training during a critical period. However, the importance of the amount of practice during this period has not been investigated. In a population sample of twins (N = 1447, 39% male, 367 complete twin pairs) and a sample of 290 professional musicians (51% male), we investigated the role of genes, age of onset of playing music and accumulated childhood practice on pitch-naming ability. A significant correlation between pitch-naming scores for monozygotic (r = .27, p < .001) but not dizygotic twin pairs (r = -.04, p = .63) supported the role of genetic factors. In professional musicians, the amount of practice accumulated between ages 6 and 11 predicted pitch-naming accuracy (p = .025). In twins, age of onset was no longer a significant predictor once practice was considered. Combined, these findings are in line with the notion that pitch-naming ability is associated with both genetic factors and amount of early practice, rather than just age of onset per se. This may reflect a dose-response relation between practice and pitch-naming ability in genetically predisposed individuals. Alternatively, children who excel at pitch-naming may have an increased tendency to practice.
... Garavan et al. (2012) and Nijs, Gallardo-Gallardo, Dries and Sels (2014) stated that innate talent merges with what has been learned. Hambrick and Tucker-Drob (2015) and Tabuena (2020) underlined this approach based on research with a focus on musical talent. In this study talent has identified as the result of an amalgamation of innate aptitude and acquired skills by deliberate practicing and doing tasks beyond the own comfort zone in a limited period of time. ...
Article
Full-text available
There is a lack of research considering coaching and mentoring as related concepts. The Voice of Holland (TVOH) has been subject of a longitudinal empirical study to fill this research gap, because it is an example of the application of coaching and mentoring in an integrated manner. The study revealed how coaches at TVOH do develop the singing talent of participants to a higher level of performance. Data were collected by desk research, participative observations, and qualitative interviews. Although the findings and conclusions are context specific for TVOH, they might be useful for talent coaching in other settings.
... One exception is a previous twin study by Fox et al. 18 , which concluded that the heritability of performance increased across multi-trial motor skill learning. Studies by Hambrick and Tucker-Drob and by Mosing et al. found that music practice was not only substantially heritable 19,20 , but also genetically associated with musical expertize and accomplishment. These results suggest a genetic effect on rate of skill acquisition. ...
Article
Full-text available
Cognitive performance is both heritable and sensitive to environmental inputs and sustained practice over time. However, it is currently unclear how genetic effects on cognitive performance change over the course of learning. We examine how polygenic scores (PGS) created from genome-wide association studies of educational attainment and cognitive performance are related to improvements in performance across nine cognitive tests (measuring perceptual speed, working memory, and episodic memory) administered to 131 adults (N = 51, ages = 20–31, and N = 80, ages = 65–80 years) repeatedly across 100 days. We observe that PGS associations with performance on a given task can change over the course of learning, with the specific pattern of change in associations differing across tasks. PGS correlations with pre-test to post-test scores may mask variability in how soon learning occurs over the course of practice. The associations between PGS and learning do not appear to simply reconstitute patterns of association between baseline performance and subsequent learning. Associations involving PGSs, however, were small with large confidence intervals. Intensive longitudinal research such as that described here may be of substantial value for clarifying the genetics of learning when implemented as far larger scale.
... 81 If anything, the reach of the faulty assumptions behind genetic understandings of musical ability have grown to include other sociocultural factors (such as the genetic propensity for practicing) within this assertion. 82 To this end, the formation of pastoral power developed by Seashore through his forays into eugenical music education research continues to control and act on individuals through institutional practices. By rooting musical ability within a discourse of genetics-based inheritance, contemporary authors continue to produce individuals who are "naturally" good at music. ...
Article
Although multiple scholars have pushed music education to embrace the aesthetic as a curricular and pedagogical touchstone, research surrounding this aesthetic turn has largely framed aesthetics as a sensory experience rather than a social technology (one that can both liberate and oppress). In response, I address the following question: how do uncritical aesthetic philosophies and the experiences they engender act as a means of oppression within music education? By way of example, I approach this question through a text analysis of writings on aesthetics from The Eugenics Review, a long-running publication that disseminated eugenics news and research. In doing so, I construct a eugenical theory of aesthetics that illuminates how eugenicists used aesthetics to enact what Foucault defines as pastoral power and assert control of bodies and populations through education. I then frame the writings of Carl Seashore (a pioneering music education researcher and avowed eugenicist) within this eugenical theory of aesthetics, revealing the ways that Seashore used aesthetic theory to forward eugenical arguments. I conclude with implications for contemporary educators and researchers, sounding a call for a deep and critical examination of all aesthetic formations within music education.
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Experts play a crucial role in underpinning decision-making in most management situations. While recent studies have disclosed the impacts of individuals’ inherent cognition and the external environment on expert performance, these two-dimensional mechanisms remain poorly understood. In this study, we identified 14 factors that influence expert performance in a bid evaluation and applied cross-impact matrix multiplication to examine the interdependence of the factors. The results indicate that the two dimension-related factors affect each other within a person–environment system, and a poor situation perception gives rise to the deviation of expert performance. Expert performance can be improved if external supervision and expertise are strengthened through deliberate practices. The study proposes a new expert performance research tool, elucidates its mechanism in bid evaluation from a cognitive psychology perspective, and provides guidelines for its improvement in workplace contexts.
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More than 20 years ago, researchers proposed that individual differences in performance in such domains as music, sports, and games largely reflect individual differences in amount of deliberate practice, which was defined as engagement in structured activities created specifically to improve performance in a domain. This view is a frequent topic of popular-science writing-but is it supported by empirical evidence? To answer this question, we conducted a meta-analysis covering all major domains in which deliberate practice has been investigated. We found that deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions. We conclude that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued.
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Genes account for between approximately 50% and 70% of the variation in cognition at the population level. However, population-level estimates of heritability potentially mask marked subgroup differences. We review the body of empirical evidence indicating that (a) genetic influences on cognition increase from infancy to adulthood, and (b) genetic influences on cognition are maximized in more advantaged socioeconomic contexts (i.e., a Gene × Socioeconomic Status interaction). We discuss potential mechanisms underlying these effects, particularly transactional models of cognitive development. Transactional models predict that people in high-opportunity contexts actively evoke and select positive learning experiences on the basis of their genetic predispositions; these learning experiences, in turn, reciprocally influence cognition. The net result of this transactional process is increasing genetic influence with increasing age and increasing environmental opportunity.
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Genes account for increasing proportions of variation in cognitive ability across development, but the mechanisms underlying these increases remain unclear. We conducted a meta-analysis of longitudinal behavioral genetic studies spanning infancy to adolescence. We identified relevant data from 16 articles with 11 unique samples containing a total of 11,500 twin and sibling pairs who were all reared together and measured at least twice between the ages of 6 months and 18 years. Longitudinal behavioral genetic models were used to estimate the extent to which early genetic influences on cognition were amplified over time and the extent to which innovative genetic influences arose with time. Results indicated that in early childhood, innovative genetic influences predominate but that innovation quickly diminishes, and amplified influences account for increasing heritability following age 8 years.
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Twenty years ago, Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Römer (1993) proposed that expert performance reflects a long period of deliberate practice rather than innate ability, or “talent”. Ericsson et al. found that elite musicians had accumulated thousands of hours more deliberate practice than less accomplished musicians, and concluded that their theoretical framework could provide “a sufficient account of themajor facts about the nature and scarcity of exceptional performance” (p. 392). The deliberate practice viewhas since gained popularity as a theoretical account of expert performance, but here we show that deliberate practice is not sufficient to explain individual differences in performance in the two most widely studied domains in expertise research—chess and music. For researchers interested in advancing the science of expert performance, the task now is to develop and rigorously test theories that take into account as many potentially relevant explanatory constructs as possible.
Article
The theoretical framework presented in this article explains expert performance as the end result of individuals' prolonged efforts to improve performance while negotiating motivational and external constraints. In most domains of expertise, individuals begin in their childhood a regimen of effortful activities (deliberate practice) designed to optimize improvement. Individual differences, even among elite performers, are closely related to assessed amounts of deliberate practice. Many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years. Analysis of expert performance provides unique evidence on the potential and limits of extreme environmental adaptation and learning.
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Many misunderstandings about the expert-performance approach can be attributed to its unique methodology and theoretical concepts. This approach was established with case studies of the acquisition of expert memory with detailed experimental analysis of the mediating mechanisms. In contrast the traditional individual difference approach starts with the assumption of underlying general latent factors of cognitive ability and personality that correlate with performance across levels of acquired skill. My review rejects the assumption that data on large samples of beginners can be extrapolated to samples of elite and expert performers. Once we can agree on the criteria for reproducible objective expert performance and acceptable methodologies for collecting valid data. I believe that scientists will recognize the need for expert-performance approach to the study of expert performance, especially at the very highest levels of achievement.
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In response to A. Anastasi's (1958) long-standing challenge, the authors propose an empirically testable theoretical model that (1) goes beyond and qualifies the established behavioral genetics paradigm by allowing for nonadditive synergistic effects, direct measures of the environment, and mechanisms of organism–environment interaction, called proximal processes, through which genotypes are transformed into phenotypes; (2) hypothesizes that estimates of heritability (e.g., h–2) increase markedly with the magnitude of proximal processes; (3) demonstrates that heritability measures the proportion of variation in individual differences attributable only to actualized genetic potential, with the degree of nonactualized potential remaining unknown; and (4) proposes that, by enhancing proximal processes and environments, it is possible to increase the extent of actualized genetic potentials for developmental competence. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)