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More Evidence that Practice Does Not Make Perfect: Music and IQ

By Howard Gardner

For close to a generation, claims have been made that musical training makes one smarter—either raising IQ (general intelligence) or improving performance in school (grades, test performance). Almost always, these claims are based on correlations between amount of time individuals have practiced and how do they on various measures. However, these correlational claims do not exclude the possibility that individuals are willing to practice for a reason—ranging from having more talent to being more motivated to learn in general.

Now, using the tools of behavioral genetics, Miriam Mosing and colleagues have released a study which provides evidence that it is not practice per se that improves cognitive performance, but rather the power of genetic influences. Comparing twins who have practiced a musical performance with those who do not, the authors find no difference in intellectual performance or level. As the authors conclude, “the relationship between practice and IQ was mostly due to shared genetic influences.”

While the study does not  focus directly on musical intelligence, I believe that this research has implications for MI theory. Specifically, the advantages of musical practice are most likely to occur for individuals who have musical talents, or in my terms “musical intelligence.” Of course, we should never discourage individuals from pursuing an interest in music. But we should also not assume that simple involvement in music has a magical and inexplicable transfer to other cognitive realms.

To read the full study in Developmental Science, click here to access a PDF.

Reference: Mosing, M. et al. (2015, April). Investigating cognitive transfer within the framework of music practice: genetic pleiotropy rather than causality. Developmental Science. pp. 1-9.