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Genetic Attributions: Understanding The Role of Controllability

Stephen P Schneider, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Genetic attribution scholars have long assumed that attributing a trait to genetics implies that a person lacks control over the trait. Testing this assumption could be important for understanding genetic engineering attitudes in that genetic engineering provides a means for controlling genes. Using data from a survey and four experiments, my dissertation examines what the public means when they make genetic attributions, whether controllability is associated with genetic attributions, and whether genetic attributions, controllability, and/or tolerance predict support for genetic engineering. I first find that the public generally underestimates the effect of genes on behaviors and conditions except for political liberals and non-religious people, who tend to overestimate the effect of genes possibly out of a desire to reduce culpability. Next, I examined the relationships between genetic attributions, controllability, and tolerance, and found that genetic attributions are only weakly correlated with perceptions of trait controllability and are not associated with trait tolerance. After finding weak support for the assumption that genetic attributions signal reduced control, I then examined support for genetic engineering. I show that controllability, but not genetic attributions, are associated with support for 5 types of genetic engineering and that trait tolerance predicts support for parents choosing to use genetic engineering to prevent their offspring from have diseases or disabilities. Finally, I conducted four experiments that sought to untangle the causal order in which genetic attributions, controllability, tolerance, and genetic engineering attitudes work together.

Subject Area

Political science|Personality psychology|Genetics|Experimental psychology|Behavioral psychology

Recommended Citation

Schneider, Stephen P, "Genetic Attributions: Understanding The Role of Controllability" (2019). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI22588285.