The heritability and genetic correlates of mobile phone use: a twin study of consumer behavior

Twin Res Hum Genet. 2012 Feb;15(1):97-106. doi: 10.1375/twin.15.1.97.


There has been almost no overlap between behavior genetics and consumer behavior research, despite each field's importance in understanding society. In particular, both have neglected to study genetic influences on consumer adoption and usage of new technologies -- even technologies as important as the mobile phone, now used by 5.8 out of 7.0 billion people on earth. To start filling this gap, we analyzed self-reported mobile phone use, intelligence, and personality traits in two samples of Australian teenaged twins (mean ages 14.2 and 15.6 years), totaling 1,036 individuals. ACE modeling using Mx software showed substantial heritabilities for how often teens make voice calls (.60 and .34 in samples 1 and 2, respectively) and for how often they send text messages (.53 and. 50). Shared family environment - including neighborhood, social class, parental education, and parental income (i.e., the generosity of calling plans that parents can afford for their teens) -- had much weaker effects. Multivariate modeling based on cross-twin, cross-trait correlations showed negative genetic correlations between talking/texting frequency and intelligence (around -.17), and positive genetic correlations between talking/texting frequency and extraversion (about .20 to .40). Our results have implications for assessing the risks of mobile phone use such as radiofrequency field (RF) exposure and driving accidents, for studying adoption and use of other emerging technologies, for understanding the genetic architecture of the cognitive and personality traits that predict consumer behavior, and for challenging the common assumption that consumer behavior is shaped entirely by culture, media, and family environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Australia
  • Cell Phone*
  • Female
  • Genetics, Behavioral*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personality* / genetics
  • Social Environment*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Twins, Dizygotic / genetics
  • Twins, Monozygotic / genetics