Understandings of basic genetics in the United States: results from a national survey of black and white men and women

Public Health Genomics. 2010;13(7-8):467-76. doi: 10.1159/000293287. Epub 2010 Mar 5.


Aim: This study examined understandings of basic genetic concepts among Americans.

Method: In a national telephone survey of 1,200 Americans with equal representation among Black and White men and women, subjects responded to 8 items developed by a multidisciplinary team of experts that assessed understanding of basic concepts in multiple domains, including inheritance, genetics and race, and genetics and behavior.

Results: Over 70% of subjects responded correctly on items about the genetic similarity of identical twins and siblings. Less than half of subjects responded correctly on all other items. Understanding of genetics was lowest in three areas: types/locations of genes in the body (29% correct), a genetic basis for race (25% correct), and the influence of single genes on behaviors (24% correct). Logistic regression models controlling for age and education showed some differences by race and gender on specific items but also showed that understandings are generally similar across these groups.

Conclusion: Misunderstandings about genetics are common among Black and White American men and women. Responses appear to reflect personal experiences, group values and interests. These findings emphasize the need for initiatives to improve the public's genetic literacy as well as a need for further investigation in this domain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Black People*
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genetics, Medical*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Inheritance Patterns*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • White People*
  • Young Adult