The shared biology of musicality and language: framework, predictions, and findings


Srishti Nayak, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Vanderbilt Music Cognition Lab, Vanderbilt University Medical Center


Using individual differences approaches, a growing body of literature finds positive associations between musical and language-related abilities, complementing prior findings linking musical training with language skills. Despite these associations, musicality is often overlooked as a factor in mainstream models of individual differences in language acquisition and development. To better understand the biological basis of both musicality and language, and how they are intertwined, we have recently proposed the Musical Abilities, Pleiotropy, Language, and Environment (MAPLE) framework, which posits shared genetic architecture, overlapping neural endophenotypes, and shared genetic influences on musically/linguistically enriched environments. In this talk, I will share findings from a synthetic review of over 70 studies demonstrating that individual differences in musical abilities are robustly correlated with language-related skills, and discuss findings in terms of potential underlying biology. I will also outline ongoing and future studies for unraveling the shared genetic architecture of musicality and language, based on testable predictions put forth by the MAPLE framework. These efforts can  allow us to leverage our understanding of the biological basis of music, towards better understanding individual differences in language abilities across development.