Graduation Date

Spring 2017

Document Type



Master of Arts degree with a major in Psychology, option Academic Research

Committee Chair Name

Dr. Chris Aberson

Committee Chair Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Second Committee Member Name

Dr. Ethan Gahtan

Second Committee Member Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Third Committee Member Name

Dr. Amber Gaffney

Third Committee Member Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Subject Categories



Direct-to-consumer genetic testing describes genetic testing which is done using online or mail in services, without the direct supervision of a counselor or physician. Individuals can order information about their ancestry, trait information, and even disease risk information. Online testing services have previously been prevented from offering certain types of genetic self-knowledge to consumers due to government regulation, however, there is little information available about how genetic self-knowledge may affect consumers. The present study evaluated whether simply believing oneself to be genetically disadvantaged could cause an individual to perform poorly on a working memory task.

University students participated in a two-part study which was advertised as investigating the impact of the COMT gene. COMT is a gene that regulates the production of COMT enzymes, which break down dopamine in the pre-frontal cortex, and in turn may impact certain cognitive abilities. During session one, participants were exposed to information about differences between two genetic groups: Met allele carriers, and Val allele carriers. Under deception, participants submitted a saliva sample. The saliva sample was disposed of, and participants were randomly assigned to be either Met allele carriers or Val allele carriers. During session two, participants were informed of their genetic group. Val allele carriers were told that they possessed a genetic disadvantage, and Met allele carriers were told that they possessed an advantage. Participants took a computerized card sorting task designed to measure their working memory ability both before and after they received genetic information. Additionally, participants took a survey which measured to what extent they believed genetics could affect their abilities. I expected to find that Val allele carriers would perform significantly worse than Met allele carriers on the card sorting task. Additionally, I expected to find that genetic essentialism beliefs would impact card sorting scores. Genetic essentialism describes a belief where our genetics are very deterministic of our abilities and traits.

I found no evidence of a genetic stereotype threat. Val allele carriers did not decrease significantly in their performance between baseline and posttest. There was evidence for a stereotype lift effect, Met allele carriers performed slightly better after hearing they had the advantaged gene. Additionally, I found no evidence to support that genetic essentialism beliefs impacted card sorting scores.

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