Does DNA affect accents or perfect pitch?
When many members of a family have similar traits—like freckles, accents, or curly hair—one can’t help but wonder if these traits are genetic. Take perfect pitch, for example: Some families just seem to have a knack for killing it at karaoke, including the impressive skill of identifying musical notes without a reference pitch. Similarly, accents often run in families, even when a family doesn’t live in the geographical region associated with that accent. So, are these traits genetic?
It’s not entirely clear how many people have perfect pitch, but some studies indicate that it could be as many as 1 in every 1,500 people1. Multiple scientific studies have compared the DNA sequences of people with, and without, perfect pitch. From these studies, it appears that perfect pitch does have a genetic component and can be inherited from a person’s biological parents1,2. However, these studies also emphasize that environmental factors also contribute to this trait—someone predisposed to perfect pitch may never develop it without training.
Unlike perfect pitch, accents are not influenced by a person’s genetics. Generally speaking, the way we pronounce words can be molded by regular interaction with people in our environment. So a family that has moved from one part of the world to another may seem to have a family-specific accent, but that trait is a result of the family’s shared environment—not their shared genetics.
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2Theusch, Elizabeth, Analabha Basu, and Jane Gitschier. “Genome-Wide Study of Families with Absolute Pitch Reveals Linkage to 8q24.21 and Locus Heterogeneity.” American Journal of Human Genetics 85.1 (2009): 112–119. PMC. Web. 14 Aug. 2018.
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