Addicted to Facebook? Your genes may be to blame

Gi Gi Miller-Martinez uses her laptop at home in San Jose. A new study of twins helped researchers identify genes that influence our affinity for online media.
(Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

If you find it impossible to look away from Twitter and Facebook, don’t blame your weak willpower — blame your genes instead.

A new study suggests that part of your propensity to spend copious amounts of time looking at online media — or not — could be written right in your DNA.

Not that this should come as a tremendous surprise.

In a paper published Monday in PLOS One, researchers explain that genetic influences have already been shown to play a role in nearly all psychological traits. Therefore it makes sense that our genes are also influencing how much time we spend on our computers.


Specifically, the researchers found that genetic differences accounted for roughly one-quarter to one-third of individual differences in how much time we spend on Facebook, gaming, and educational or entertainment websites.

To come to this conclusion, the research team from King’s College London looked at online media use in more than 8,500 teenage twins from the Twins Early Development Study in the U.K. and Wales.

Some of the twins in the study were identical, which means they share 100% of their genetic information. Others were fraternal, which means they share about 50% of their genes, just like other siblings would.

By comparing the responses of two types of twins to questions about how much time they spent on Facebook, online gaming, and on websites for either educational or entertainment purposes, the researchers were able to estimate how large a role one’s genes plays in online media use.


The authors report that genetic differences played a significant role in how much time kids spent online.

For instance, they found that genetic inheritance was responsible for 37% of the time kids spent on websites for entertainment, 34% for the amount of time they spent using the Web for educational purposes and 39% of the time they spent playing online games.

Facebook use, on the other hand, was slightly less influenced by genetics. The authors report that heritability was responsible for 24% of the time kids spent on the social network.

The authors note that environmental factors still play a much larger role in how much time the study participants spend online than genetics. These might include how much access to media sources the kids have, and how much parents are monitoring their online media use.


But, they also predict that future studies will find that genetics plays an even larger role in the amount of hours these kids spend staring at their computers or mobile phones.

“As environmental differences in access and availability diminish, our data suggests the difference in online media use would increasingly reflect differences in genetic propensities,” they write.

In other words, if there are fewer hurdles to your online media access, your genetics gets a larger say in how much you engage with the content.


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