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OXTR Could Influence Instagram Usage, Researchers Report

— October 1, 2021

New research suggests opioid receptors might influence social media use.

Research has found there is evidence that variations in a person’s genetic code for the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) might account for differing interpersonal behaviors.  According to a new, small-scale study by the Society for Endocrinology and published in the journal Heliyon, which examined the link between “oxytocin receptors, adult attachment, and social media usage,” individuals with a specific variant of genetic coding for the oxytocin receptor “tend to follow more people on Instagram.”  This suggests that the receptor may influence social media usage and socialization.

The preliminary study could lead to future investigations designed to develop a better understanding of the relationship between genetics and environmental factors that impact “a person’s sociability, particularly in an online context,” the team wrote, explaining further that, “Oxytocin acts as a chemical messenger and has an important role in many human behaviors, including sexual arousal, recognition, trust, romantic attachment, and mother–infant bonding.”

In a previous review article published in the journal Psycho-neuroendocrinology, researchers also noted, “In a safe environment, oxytocin might promote prosocial behavior, while in an unsafe environment, it may encourage more antisocial behavior.”  The current study looked specifically at OXTR variants, attachment, and online socialization, suggesting that “attachment refers to an individual’s emotions and behaviors in close relationships.”

OXTR Could Influence Instagram Usage, Researchers Report
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Dr. Gianluca Esposito of the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science at the University of Trento in Italy and the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, the study’s author, said, “Considering the pivotal role that social networking sites, [like] Instagram, play in our daily lives, we conducted a multidisciplinary study to explore the mechanisms ruling online social interactions.”

He and his colleagues recruited 57 students ages 30 years and younger from Nanyang Technological University.  The students all had Instagram accounts and did not have a history of neurological, psychiatric, or genetic disorders.  The team swabbed each participant’s cheek to collect their DNA and asked them to complete a survey to determine attachment style.  The team then tracked Instagram usage utilizing software that analyzed each participant’s account, including the number of posts, how many accounts they followed, and how many people followed them.

The researchers suggested, “The interaction between each participant’s OXTR polymorphism and their attachment style would affect the number of posts and the ratio of followers to people following them on Instagram.”  And, they found, “The participants with the single-nucleotide polymorphism variant rs53576 and the AA genotype in the oxytocin receptor gene OXTR followed more people on Instagram compared with the participants with the G-allele.  This was the case [regardless of] the participant’s attachment style.”

Esposito explained, “The study revealed potential associations between Instagram usage, genetic predispositions, and anxiety or avoidance experienced in close relationships.  For instance, the number of accounts that a person follows on Instagram may be linked to the user’s genotype in specific parts of the oxytocin receptor gene.  The results testify the significant contribution of the environmental and genetic components when examining human behavior on social media platforms.”

Esposito warned, however that “the present results should be interpreted with a great degree of caution in the panorama of genetic association studies. This is a small initial investigation of the phenomenon and should be followed up in different countries, as well as in larger samples.”  If the research is continued, it could provide more evidence of the link between the oxycontin receptor and social media influence and usage.


Could oxytocin receptors influence Instagram activity?

The relation between oxytocin receptor gene polymorphisms, adult attachment and Instagram sociability: An exploratory analysis

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