Nicholas Christakis of Harvard University, along with Christopher Dawes and James Fowler of University of California, San Diego, studied 1,110 twins in a population of more than 90,000 adolescents.
They measured indications of popularity such as the number of times an individual was named as a friend. They also looked at whether an individual tended to be at the center or the edges of a social group.
There was more similarity between the social positions of identical twins than of fraternal twins, an indication that the measures of popularity had an inherited component, the researchers report in Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
While identical and fraternal twins both have the same parents, identical twins come from the same egg while fraternal twins are fertilized separately.
"One of the things that the study tells us is that social networks are likely to be a fundamental part of our genetic heritage," Fowler said in a statement. "It may be that natural selection is acting on not just things like whether or not we can resist the common cold, but also who it is that we are going to come into contact with."
There may be an evolutionary explanation for this genetic influence and the tendency for some people to be at the center while others are at the edges of the group, the researchers said. If a deadly germ is spreading through a community, individuals at the edges are least likely to be exposed. However, to gain access to important information about a food source, being in the center of the group has a distinct benefit.