TRENTO, Italy — Students with a variant of the “love hormone” oxytocin in their genetic make-up appear to follow more people on Instagram, according to a new study. An international team discovered that those with a specific variant in the oxytocin receptor gene OXTR follow more people on the popular photo and video sharing social media platform.
Oxytocin is a hormone and a neurotransmitter the brain releases during childbirth and while breast-feeding. It also plays a role with empathy, trust, sexual activity, and relationship-building. People sometimes refer to oxytocin as the “love drug” because its levels increase during hugging and orgasm.
However, the new study did not find evidence that gene-environment interactions influence online sociability. Senior study author Dr. Gianluca Esposito and his team investigated whether OXTR interacts with an environmental factor – adult attachment – to influence behavior on Instagram.
A total of 57 students enrolled at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore participated in the study. All were between the ages of 18 and 25 years-old. They provided DNA samples and completed an online questionnaire that assessed their anxiety and avoidance behavior in close relationships with partners.
The researchers used the DNA samples to look at each person’s oxytocin levels. They also examined the participants’ Instagram profiles, including the number of posts, followers, and people followed.
One gene may determine your social media habits
Contrary to expectations, there were no significant gene-environment interactions. For the gene rs53576, individuals with the AA genotype followed more people than G-allele carriers, regardless of the quality of their intimate relationships. The AA genotype could make individuals more inclined to be sociable online, according to the researchers.
“The present results should be interpreted with a great degree of caution in the panorama of genetic association studies,” Dr. Esposito, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Trento, in a media release. “This is a small initial investigation of the phenomenon and should be followed up in different countries as well as in larger samples.”
“Overall, the role played by the A and G alleles of the OXTR SNPs toward general social behavior is debated,” Dr. Esposito adds. “The current findings could inspire future research exploring online sociability with a gene-environment perspective.”
The findings appear in the journal Heliyon.
South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.