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Sunday, September 2, 2012

The effects of learning about one’s own genetic susceptibility to alcoholism: a randomized experiment

Increased accessibility of direct-to-consumer personalized genetic reports raises the question: how are people affected by information about their own genetic predispositions?

Participants were led to believe that they had entered a study on the genetics of alcoholism and sleep disorders. Participants provided a saliva sample purportedly to be tested for the presence of relevant genes. While awaiting the results, they completed a questionnaire assessing their emotional state. They subsequently received a bogus report about their genetic susceptibility and completed a questionnaire about their emotional state and items assessing perceived control over drinking, relevant future drinking-related intentions, and intervention-related motivation and behavior.

Participants who were led to believe that they had a gene associated with alcoholism showed an increase in negative affect, decrease in positive affect, and reduced perceived personal control over drinking. Reported intentions for alcohol consumption in the near future were not affected; however, individuals were more likely to enroll in a “responsible drinking” workshop after learning of their alleged genetic susceptibility.

The first complete randomized experiment to examine the psychological and behavioral effects of receiving personalized genetic susceptibility information indicates some potential perils and benefits of direct-to-consumer genetic tests.

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