Believing in both genetic determinism and behavioral action: A materialist framework and implications

Celeste M. Condit, Marita Gronnvoll, Jamie Landau, Lijiang Shen, Lanelle Wright, Tina M. Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


A disparity exists between studies reporting that genetics discourse produces deterministic or fatalistic responses and studies reporting that the majority of laypeople do not hold or adopt genetically deterministic views. This article reports data from an interview study (n = 50), and an interpretation of those data grounded in materialist understandings of discourse, that explains at least part of the disparity. The article employs a detailed reading of an illustrative transcript embedded in a quantitative content analysis to suggest that laypeople have incorporated two sets of public discourses-one that describes genetic causation and another that describes behavioral causation. These different discourse tracks are presumed to be encoded in different sets of neural networks in people's minds. Consequently, each track can be articulated upon proper cueing, but the tracks are not related to each other to produce a discourse for speaking about gene-behavior interactions. Implications for the effects of this mode of instantiation of discourse in human individuals with regard to genes and behavior are discussed, as well as implications for message design.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)730-746
Number of pages17
JournalPublic Understanding of Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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