Study Finds that Musically Inclined People Have a Higher Genetic Risk of Mental Health Illnesses

Study Finds that Musically Inclined People Have a Higher Genetic Risk of Mental Health Illnesses

A recent study discovered that musicians had a greater genetic risk factor for bipolar illness, anxiety, and depression, contrary to what many people instinctively assume.

A comprehensive study on the connection between producing music and mental health, led by the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Germany, revealed that musically active people had, on average, a marginally greater genetic risk for depression and bipolar illness, among other mental health problems.

For the first time in 2019, researchers were able to show a connection between musical involvement and mental health issues in a large population survey.

A total of 10,500 Swedish participants answered questions concerning their engagement in music and their mental health.

What the scientists found was that people who were musically active had more frequent symptoms of burnout, depression, and psychosis than those who did not create music.

Due to the fact that the study participants were twins, the team was able to take family factors into consideration as well.

These factors involve both genetics and upbringing.

Twins not only grow up together most of the time but they also share all of their genes, or at least a portion of them, depending on whether they’re identical or not.

The results showed that singing or playing an instrument were linked to mental health issues but most likely not causally.

First author Laura Wesseldijk, explains that “people don’t make music in response to mental health issues or vice versa. Rather, the link can be attributed to some shared genetic factors and influence from the family environment.”

According to the analysis of the data, those who are more likely to develop depression and bipolar genetically are also more likely to be musically inclined, practice music more, and perform at a higher level. It’s interesting to note that these links existed whether or not the subjects truly had mental health issues or not.

Regardless of whether they played an instrument or not, people with a higher genetic predisposition for musicality also had, on average, a slightly increased chance of getting depression.

These results provide more evidence that musical involvement and mental health are influenced by the same genes, at least in part.

Senior author Miriam Mosing, explains that “The overall relationship between music and mental health is thus really complex: familial and genetic factors can influence both one’s musicality and mental health. Furthermore, musicians seem to have a slightly higher genetic risk for certain mental illnesses.”

Naturally, these findings do not rule out the beneficial effects of music-making on mental health. Music may indeed have a good or even therapeutic impact on people.

The team is currently doing more research in this area while also taking flow experiences into consideration.

The term “flow” describes the sensation of total immersion in an activity, which might occur, for instance, during cultural activities like playing an instrument.

Initial findings indicate that flow experiences can improve mental health, even when family and genetic characteristics are taken into consideration.

Katherine Baldwin

Katherine is just getting her start as a journalist. She attended a technical school while still in high school where she learned a variety of skills, from photography to nutrition. Her enthusiasm for both natural and human sciences is real so she particularly enjoys covering topics on medicine and the environment.

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