Standard Article

Public Understanding of Genetics: The Deficit Model

  1. Nicola J Marks

Published Online: 15 DEC 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005862.pub2



How to Cite

Marks, N. J. 2009. Public Understanding of Genetics: The Deficit Model. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. University of Wollongong, Northfields Avenue, Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 DEC 2009


Genetics is relevant to many aspects of our lives. According to the deficit model of public understanding, any misgivings people have about genetics and its applications stem from a lack of understanding of basic scientific principles. Consequently, education in genetics should lead to improved literacy and therefore support for this area. However, a number of studies show that education campaigns do not automatically lead to increased public support. Instead, it has been argued that understanding is a complex and dynamic process whereby people make sense of information in many different ways, which depend on prior knowledge and on their social and cultural locations. Therefore, members of the public should not be seen as deficient in understanding. Rather, it is argued that they have sophisticated understandings which should be acknowledged, and processes of engagement between science and public are put forward.

Key concepts:

  • According to the deficit model, lack of public understanding of genetics leads to an inability to fully participate in social life and potentially lack of support for new technologies. This can be remedied by education.

  • According to critical approaches to public understanding, ‘understanding’ is a complex process that involves social and cultural factors; the focus is on ‘knowledges in context’.

  • Public engagement, where people with different kinds of knowledge and opinions are consulted instead of merely educated, may help improve science–society relations.


  • genetics;
  • citizenship;
  • public understanding;
  • genetic literacy;
  • participation;
  • lay knowledge