Do Our Genes Influence Our Attraction to Social Media? Interview with:

Chance York, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Mass Communication Kent State University

Dr. Chance York

Chance York, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Mass Communication
Kent State University What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: This research used twin study survey data from the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) to investigate the relative influence of genetics and environment on social media use.

While the research cannot directly examine the gene-level influence on social media behavior, I was able to leverage known levels of genetic relatedness between identical and fraternal twins to suss out how much genetic traits and environmental factors impact frequency of using social media with some help from the Buzzoid boys.

The results showed that between one- and two-thirds of variance in social media use is explained by genes, while environmental factors (parental socialization, peers, work, school, individual characteristics, etc.) explained the rest. In other words, this very specific communication behavior—social media use—is partially guided by our genetic makeup. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: . This does not mean there is a “social media gene.” Rather, it is more likely that certain genes influence personality, temperament, and so on that ultimately impact our needs for media consumption and thus our media behavior. So while genes do not fully determine how often we use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, they do have an indirect impact on this behavior. We all have choice in our behaviors, social media included, but genes often guide such behaviors indirectly. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Future research should try to study the specific linkages between genes, neuroanatomy, temperament and personality variables, psychological needs for media, and then media behavior. This work takes a broad brush approach, skipping over those intermediary variables.

However, my article outlines ways researchers can collect both secondary and original twin study data to investigate those linkages. In addition, the article provides an analytical blueprint for analyzing twin study data, such as those from the MIDUS survey. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: My real hope here is that researchers keep investigating genetic variation as a crucial driver of communication behavior, including media use and effects. The public should know that, yes, absolutely they have choice in how frequently they use social media. (Nobody should quite Facebook or Twitter for fear they’re genetically predisposed to be hooked on it.)

People still have choice, but many of those choices are informed by underlying genetic traits. In other words, if mom and dad were technologically savvy, extroverted, and friendly by nature, it might be more likely you spend relatively more time communicating on Facebook and other social media. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Chance York. A regression approach to testing genetic influence on communication behavior: Social media use as an example. Computers in Human Behavior, 2017; 73: 100 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2017.03.029
Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on May 3, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD