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Belief in genetic determinism (BGD) is the belief that genes attribute more influence on the expression of traits than scientific research supports. The environment and other factors, such as epigenetics, factor heavily into the expression of traits and it is important that students from all backgrounds understand this since BGD has been associated with societal instances of racism and sexism. We analyzed essay responses that undergraduate students wrote in response to a socioscientific issue (SSI) about the use of CRISPR/Cas9 technology for non-medical enhancement in humans to examine the presence of BGD. Our sample was composed of non-biology majors, lower level biology majors, and upper level biology majors, representing three academic levels that differed in genetics background knowledge. We hypothesized that students with more genetics knowledge would display less BGD in their writing. The most frequent BGD that appeared across all academic levels was the belief that changing the genetic makeup of a human can cure or prevent a disease completely. Another frequent BGD that was present was build-a-baby, where a student believed that by only altering genes, we can choose the traits of embryos and children. Students from all three academic levels displayed the same amount of BGD in their essays, but the types of BGD displayed were different. ULM displayed more BGD concerning physical, behavioral, and mental characteristics but less BGD about side effects and disease cures/prevention. This is important because it indicates that curriculum and genetics knowledge impacts BGD.

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belief in genetic determinism; genes; traits


Biology | Genetics and Genomics

Belief in Genetic Determinism within Academic Levels