Explanatory Models of Genetics and Genetic Risk among a Selected Group of Students. Academic Article uri icon


  • This exploratory qualitative study focuses on how college students conceptualize genetics and genetic risk, concepts essential for genetic literacy (GL) and genetic numeracy (GN), components of overall health literacy (HL). HL is dependent on both the background knowledge and culture of a patient, and lower HL is linked to increased morbidity and mortality for a number of chronic health conditions (e.g., diabetes and cancer). A purposive sample of 86 students from three Southwestern universities participated in eight focus groups. The sample ranged in age from 18 to 54years, and comprised primarily of female (67.4%), single (74.4%), and non-White (57%) participants, none of whom were genetics/biology majors. A holistic-content approach revealed broad categories concerning participants' explanatory models (EMs) of genetics and genetic risk. Participants' EMs were grounded in highly contextualized narratives that only partially overlapped with biomedical models. While higher education levels should be associated with predominately knowledge-based EM of genetic risk, this study shows that even in well-educated populations cultural factors can dominate. Study findings reveal gaps in how this sample of young adults obtains, processes, and understands genetic/genomic concepts. Future studies should assess how individuals with low GL and GN obtain and process genetics and genetic risk information and incorporate this information into health decision making. Future work should also address the interaction of communication between health educators, providers, and genetic counselors, to increase patient understanding of genetic risk.

published proceedings

  • Front Public Health

altmetric score

  • 0.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Goltz, H. H., Bergman, M., & Goodson, P.

citation count

  • 3

complete list of authors

  • Goltz, Heather HonorĂ©||Bergman, Margo||Goodson, Patricia

publication date

  • January 2016