Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Psychology

Program Name/Specialization

Social Psychology

Faculty/School

Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Anne Wilson

Advisor Role

Graduate Advisor

Second Advisor

Roger Buehler

Advisor Role

Graduate Advisor

Abstract

With rapid advances in behavioural genetics, scientists are identifying an increasing array of genetic influences on human behaviour. Public misconceptions about the function of genes often lead to the oversimplification of the role of genes in behaviour (Dar-Nimrod & Heine, 2011). To date, no study has systematically investigated whether simply learning about genetic causes of behaviour affects people’s preferred solutions to problematic behaviours. The present research program includes three studies that were designed to examine the psychological effects of exposure to genetic etiology for problematic behaviour, in particular aggression, and investigated how this information influences endorsement of solutions, rating of effectiveness, and support for research funding. It was predicted that compared to a psycho-social etiological emphasis, a genetic etiological emphasis would increase preference for biomedical approaches.

Participants read an article outlining the multi-determined nature of aggression, either emphasizing a newly-discovered genetic or an environmental cause of aggression which accounted for behavioural aggression in 30% of those with the predisposition. Across all three studies, the genetic emphasis increased preference for biomedicine compared to a psycho-social emphasis of aggression. In Studies 2 and 3 the psycho-social emphasis also increased preference for socio-behavioural approaches to aggression. These results underscore the importance of considering how media reports of genetic influences on behaviour can meaningfully affect people’s beliefs about treatments and solutions to social issues. In Study 1 and 3, assigning responsibility to genetic or environmental factors for aggression mediates solution preferences and preliminary evidence from Study 3 suggests that coherence of arguments, perceptions about personal responsibility and predispositions increases the effects of the emphasis condition. The effect of emphasis was also discussed in relation to additional variables. Findings from this program of research contribute to best practices for professionals and journalists when conveying genetic research to the public.

Convocation Year

2016

Convocation Season

Fall