Researchers are saying there may be a genetic basis to online media consumption and engagement.

Media consumption has long been seen as a passive thing, where people passively take in whatever media they are given. But the truth, according to a recent study from King’s College London, is that people actively engage with media, in different ways and with different forms that work best for them.

“Our findings contradict popular media effects theories, which typically view the media as an external entity that has some effect—either good or bad—on ‘helpless’ consumers,” said study lead author Ziada Ayorech.

The researchers say there could be a genetic element to how we choose what online media to engage with, and how we choose to engage with it. The study, which followed approximately 8,500 16-year-old twins, was built on data from the Twins Early Development Study. They compared media usage between both identical twins (who share 100 percent of their DNA) and non-identical twins (who only share 50 percent of their genes). This allowed them to “estimate the relative contribution of genes and environment on individual differences in engagement with a range of online media.”

By looking at twins, the researchers could get an idea of whether or not there were genetic influences on how these kids use media, with the expectation that identical twins would engage in the same way.

“Finding that DNA differences substantially influence how individuals interact with the media puts the consumer in the driver’s seat, selecting and modifying their media exposure according to their needs,” said Ayorech.

Naturally, there are environmental factors, even among identical twins, that can have an impact on online media usage. One twin, for example, might not have their own phone, or parents might more closely observe one twin’s use of social media for various reasons.

Senior author Prof. Robert Plomin said, “The key component of this gene-environment correlation is choice, such that individuals are not simply passive recipients of their environment but instead actively select their experiences and these selections are correlated with their genetic propensities.”

The study has not come to the definitive conclusion that genetics determine how we use media, but it has opened up some new avenues of research and asked some very interesting questions about how and why we choose the media we choose.