A comprehensive investigation into the genetic relationship between music engagement and mental health

Laura W Wesseldijk, Yi Lu, Robert Karlsson, Fredrik Ullén, Miriam A Mosing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


While music engagement is often regarded as beneficial for mental health, some studies report higher risk for depression and anxiety among musicians. This study investigates whether shared underlying genetic influences (genetic pleiotropy) or gene-environment interaction could be at play in the music-mental health association using measured genotypes. In 5,648 Swedish twins with information on music and sport engagement, creative achievements, self-reported mental health and psychiatric diagnoses based on nationwide patient registries, we derived polygenic scores for major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, neuroticism, sensitivity to environmental stress, depressive symptoms and general musicality. In line with phenotypic associations, individuals with higher polygenic scores for major depression and bipolar disorder were more likely to play music, practice more music and reach higher levels of general artistic achievements, while a higher genetic propensity for general musicality was marginally associated with a higher risk for a depression diagnosis. Importantly, polygenic scores for major depression and bipolar remained associated with music engagement when excluding individuals who experienced psychiatric symptoms, just as a genetic propensity for general musicality predicted a depression diagnosis regardless of whether and how much individuals played music. In addition, we found no evidence for gene-environment interaction: the phenotypic association between music engagement and mental health outcomes did not differ for individuals with different genetic vulnerability for mental health problems. Altogether, our findings suggest that mental health problems observed in musically active individuals are partly explained by a pre-existing genetic risk for depression and bipolar disorder and likely reflect horizontal pleiotropy (when one gene influences multiple traits), rather than causal influences of mental health on music engagement, or vice versa (referred to as vertical pleiotropy).

Original languageEnglish
Article number15
Pages (from-to)15
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Bipolar Disorder/genetics
  • Depressive Disorder, Major/genetics
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Music/psychology
  • Schizophrenia/genetics

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