Public understandings of genetics and health


Celeste M. Condit, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA.
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Condit CM. Public understandings of genetics and health.

This review of adult public understandings of genetics related to health indicates that the public's understandings overlap with those of professionals in some areas, but not others. Specifically, the majority of the world's people who have been studied understand genetics through the lens of heredity, not in terms of the structural and functional nature of genes. Public understandings of hereditary processes are influenced by models of social relationships and by experiential familiarity with particular conditions as much as by academic research results. Most people hold a fairly strong belief that many health conditions are substantially influenced by both genes and other factors. However, they do not have a stable understanding of the nature of gene–environment interactions. People in cultures where science is not a prominent cultural mode are even less likely to hold the belief structures of professional geneticists. In some areas–notably with regard to racialization of genetic medicine and characterizations of genetic variations as ‘mutations’–at least some members of the public strongly reject some geneticists' constructions. Public understanding of details pertinent to genetic testing generally appears to be weak.