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Beliefs about musical attributes

Beliefs about musical attributes

Name:Haley, Kragness

School/Affiliation:Bucknell University

Co-Authors:Zachary, Wasserman

Virtual or In-person:In-person


Though people dance, sing, and interact musically all across the world, there is substantial
individual variation in musical abilities. What do children and adults believe about where
musical abilities come from? We investigated 7- to 8-year-old children’s (N = 48) and adult’s (N
= 83) beliefs about origins of musical abilities. First, participants gave open-ended explanations
based on prompts about musical and non-musical attributes (“There is a person who is very good
at playing cello. People always clap when they play. Why do you think they are good at playing
cello?”). Then, participants rated how much genetic factors, environmental factors, and personal
choices explained those same attributes (1 - “not at all” to 5 - “just about all”). In open-ended
explanations, children and adults tended to emphasize personal choices (e.g., “he practices a
lot”), although adults also noted genetic factors for “being good at singing” and “having a good
sense of rhythm”. In scale ratings, adults consistently rated personal choices highest and genetic
factors lowest in importance, but again considered genetic factors to be relatively important for
singing and rhythmic abilities. In contrast, children consistently rated environmental factors as
least important, and rated genetic and personal choice factors as approximately equally
important. Findings suggest that children and adults both emphasize practice and personal effort
musical skill acquisition. By adulthood, however, adults refine their beliefs about the relative
importance (or unimportance) of genetic contributions to musical attributes.

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