Exploring the public understanding of basic genetic concepts

Lanie, ADJ, Toby Epstein; Sheldon, Jane P.; Kardia, Sharon L. R.; Anderson, Elizabeth S.; Feldbaum, Merle; Petty, Elizabeth M.,  Journal of Genetic Counseling,  13:305-320. 2004.

It is predicted that the rapid acquisition of new genetic knowledge and related applications during the next decade will have significant implications for virtually all members of society. Currently, most people get exposed to information about genes and genetics only through stories publicized in the media. We sought to understand how individuals in the general population used and understood the concepts of “genetics” and “genes.” During in-depth one-on-one telephone interviews with adults in the United States, we asked questions exploring their basic understanding of these terms, as well as their belief as to the location of genes in the human body. A wide range of responses was received. Despite conversational familiarity with genetic terminology, many noted frustration or were hesitant when trying to answer these questions. In addition, some responses reflected a lack of understanding about basic genetic science that may have significant implications for broader public education measures in genetic literacy, genetic counseling, public health practices, and even routine health care.