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Abstract

For over two decades, scholars in the humanities and social sciences have attended warily and thoughtfully to the growing influence of biological and especially genetics-based explanations of human behavior. Concern about genetic determinism has formed a focal point of this attention, because it was presumed to provide a lynchpin for discriminatory effects arising from genetics technologies. Substantial empirical research has now demonstrated that genetic determinism is in fact linked to discriminatory attitudes including prejudice, Social Dominance Orientation, sexism, and racism. Fortunately, however, the research has also indicated that most lay people’s deployment of genetic determinism is both limited and strategic, primarily serving self-interests such as protecting valued behaviors (which are not health conducive) or avoiding blame. The disjunction between predictions based on existing social theories of discourse and empirical research on individual-level practices highlights the need for a theoretical integration of biological biases, individual actions, and social structures in future social theories, especially theories about health behaviors, science studies, and public understanding of science.