In a new study, researchers have examined the biological basis of listening to music.
In the study of University of Helsinki and Sibelius-Academy, Helsinki, 31 Finnish families with 437 family members were examined. The participants of the study were 8-93 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 questionnaire. Active listening was defined as attentive listening of 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. In this study, willingness to listen to music and the level of music education varied in pedigrees.
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 with listening to music.
VPR1A gene is a gene that has been associated with social communication and attachment behavior in human and other species. The vasopressin homolog increases vocalization in birds and influences on breeding of lizards and fishes.
The results have suggested biological contribution to the sound perception (here listening to music), provide a molecular evidence of sound or music's role in social communication, and are providing tools for further studies on gene-culture evolution in music.
The study has been published in the Journal of Human Genetics.