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New BSCS Research Shows Genetics Education Could Reduce Racial Biases

April 8, 2019

A robust line of research at BSCS Science Learning shows that genetics education can affect the development of racial biases among adolescents, for better or worse. Most recently, BSCS Research Scientist Dr. Brian Donovan has found that learning accurate information about human genetic variation within and between US census races can reduce racial biases in adolescent and adult populations.

These findings are now published in Science Education.

As detailed in the peer-reviewed publication, Donovan randomized 166 8th and 9th grade students into separate classrooms to learn for an entire week either about the topics of human genetic variation or climate variation. When students learned about genetic variation within and between groups, it significantly changed their perceptions of human genetic variation and consequently reduced their racial biases. These findings were later replicated in two computer-based randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with a group of 176 adults and another group of 721 high school biology students.

Until now, research has only revealed how genetics education can lead to increased racial biases.

In previous RCTs, Donovan has found that when students learn about the prevalence of monogenic diseases in particular racial groups, students may inaccurately perceive too much genetic variation between racial groups. This common misconception about human genetic variation can cause increased racial biases among adolescents.

“My research shows that teaching about human genetic difference is not a socially neutral endeavor,” said Donovan. “There is a possibility that genetics education can increase or decrease racial biases. Hopefully these findings can help teachers navigate topics surrounding race and genetics in the classroom. These findings can help educators learn how to teach about genetic differences without increasing bias.”

Learn more about the Humane Genetics line of research.