Do Social Cues Go Over Your Head? Blame Your DNA

Interesting insights into how your genes may influence your ability to recognize social cues

Are you drowning in a sea of social blunders?

It's like everyone around you is speaking a silent language you don't understand and you're the only one left out of the loop, facing blank stares, embarrassment, and accidental offenses...

Unless, of course, you answered NO to the social blunder question.

Social cues are verbal and nonverbal signals that guide social interactions. They can include facial expressions, eye contact, bodily movements, and tones of voice. Social cues are a bedrock of communication, as they can influence your perception of others and how you respond to them (and vice versa).

Like many human traits, social cues were once a survival mechanism. Our ancient ancestors often had to rely on social cues to judge whether someone was friend or foe. When you meet a stranger at your favorite berry bush or watering hole, you have to be able to determine FAST whether that stranger is a threat. Before words and sentences were created, social cues were our only method of communication. Many animals still communicate this way. Dogs often misjudge the social cues of mail carriers in determining whether they're a threat.

In today's society, social cues are typically relied upon for much less serious forms of metaphorical "survival," like making it through dinner with your mother-in-law without accidentally offending her.

Can I blame my Genes for my social blunders?

The answer is a complicated MAYBE...

Yes, because social cue perception is influenced by DNA (more details on this farther down the page)...

No, because there are other factors at play when it comes to social cue perception (some of which may also be influenced by DNA)...

Here are some other reasons that could cause someone to to miss social cues:

  • Cultural differences (different cultures may have different social cues)
  • Overstimulation (missed a social cue because there's too much going on)
  • Denial ("she's not mad at me, she's just stressed")
  • Anxiety (similar to overstimulation and denial, but this denial is not a conscious choice)
  • Intoxication or substance abuse
  • Learning disabilities, including ADD or ADHD
  • Asperger syndrome
  • Autism

As you can see, it's not all genetic. Some other factors are environmental or how a person is raised. We learn many social skills as children by observing or interacting with the people around us. 

No matter how socially skilled you are (or aren't), you probably have experience with many missed social cues, whether you were the offender or the offended:

  • Personal space -- you know, that guy who always stands too close when he talks to you
  • Eye contact -- can display confidence or comfort, or a lack thereof for both
  • Facial expressions -- there's too many ways for a person's face to be (mis)interpreted to list here
  • Fidgeting -- a telltale sign of discomfort or boredom
  • Crossed arms -- often interpreted as a defensive stance
  • Tone of voice -- plenty of examples, but sarcasm is a clear example of a social cue that's often missed
  • Tone of text -- boy, this can be tough for anyone to get a grip on

Are you more or less likely to understand social cues?

You may already think you know your ability to interpret social cues based on your experience and how it relates to the lists above, but what you might NOT know is what your DNA has to say about the matter.

 Your DNA contains your CNR1 gene, which is related to your endocannabinoid system. More importantly for the context of social cues, genetic research has also linked the CNR1 gene to how long you may look at someone's face.

If you have a "Longer Gaze Duration," that means you tend to pay attention to the facial expressions of other people. This helps you pick up on subtle social cues that may often be missed by people with a "Shorter Gaze Duration." It also provides you with an advantage -- you're able to be more sensitive to others' needs.

If you have a "Shorter Gaze Duration," that means you typically don't look very long at others' facial expressions. This may cause some awkward situations in your social life, but it may also be an advantage in that you're better able to make tough decisions without being swayed by the opinions of others. Luckily, social cue perception is also something that can be improved with practice.

Use Your DNA to Explore Your Social Cue Perception

If you're a CRI Genetics customer, you can access your Social Cue Perception Report in your CRI Genetics account right now and find out how your DNA influences your social skills.

Not a CRI Genetics customer yet? Go check out any current promotions and find out how you can get the Social Cue Perception Report (and many more).