Research Internship

Population Genetics of Human Communication

Exploring genetic relationships between musicality, and early social, motor and language abilities

The Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, the Netherlands is offering an internship position in the Population Genetics of Human Communication research group. The host research group, led by Dr. Beate St Pourcain, investigates the genetic basis of social communication, language and interaction in large population-based cohorts and is embedded within the Language & Genetics Department at the MPI.

This research internship is open to MSc students who would like to gain experience in analysing "big data" from population-based cohorts.

The ability to perceive and produce music (musicality) is known to affect children's ability to communicate, speak and interact1. This includes perceptual, language and literacy skills, but also social abilities, affecting health and wellbeing1. For example, musical experiences sharpen the differentiation between tonal and rhythmic patterns and are thought to impact on the perception of language and phonological awareness1. Participation in musical groups promotes friendships, social skills and networks1. The aetiological mechanisms underlying these relationships are unknown and may involve shared genetic factors.

This project focuses on the study of shared genetic links between musicality, social and language abilities in children across the ages of 1 to 4 years. You will explore the genetic overlap between measures of musicality, especially rhythmicity scores as derived from a large GWAS analysis2, and infant and toddler language, social and motor abilities; genetic correlations will be studied using polygenic scoring techniques3 and their effects will be eventually meta-analysed.

To do this, you will use state-of the-art statistical genetic analysis methods. You will also learn how to work within a linux environment and gain experience with coding in R and bash.

The internship will last at least 5 months, the starting date is negotiable. Note that the MPI is unable to remunerate any work carried out during this internship. Applicants should be enrolled within a master programme such as Cognitive Neuroscience, Medical Biology, Biomedical Sciences, Statistics or similar. Basic knowledge about genetics and/or statistics and a good knowledge of English are a requirement.  For further information please contact Dr. Beate St Pourcain (beate.stpourcain [at] To apply, please send a motivation letter (max. 1 page) along with a CV and contact details to Martina Bernhard (Martina.Bernhard [at] Applications will be reviewed until the position is filled. 

Relevant literature:

  1. Hallam, S. The power of music: Its impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people. International Journal of Music Education 28, 269–289 (2010).
  2. Niarchou, M. et al. Unravelling the genetic architecture of musical rhythm. bioRxiv 836197 (2019) doi:10.1101/836197.
  3. Wray, N. R. & Maier, R. Genetic Basis of Complex Genetic Disease: The Contribution of Disease Heterogeneity to Missing Heritability. Curr Epidemiol Rep 1, 220–227 (2014).


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