Recent advances in human genetics have produced unprecedented growth in knowledge and resources that can be applied to biology and medicine. Research in testing and the identification of genes for specific conditions has inspired hopes for the prevention and treatment of many diseases. However, research on human genetics also generates enormous controversy. Much of the debate derives from the assumption that beliefs in genetic causes for human traits are associated with discriminatory attitudes against those identified as genetically inferior. Our study will examine how the public conceptualizes human genetic mechanisms and interprets and uses this information. The major goals of this study are to 1) document the general character of the public's beliefs about how genes effect human traits, 2) investigate their use in explaining perceived differences between individuals and between gender, class and racial groups, and 3) explore the association between these beliefs and socio-political attitudes. Three telephone surveys will be conducted with African American and white, female and male adult respondents from a range of socioeconomic levels. Two of these interviews will involve the collection of qualitative information from 40 respondents (each) and one structured interview will be conducted with 1,200 respondents, nationally sampled. Findings from this study will 1) give guidance to those in the fields of genetic counseling and education so they may better understand the public's conceptions of genetic mechanisms, 2) increase our knowledge about the role genetic explanations may play in gender, class and racial antagonism and stereotyping, and 3) inform those in the field of human genetics about the social and ethnical implications of their work.
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