Do No Harm: Psychological Costs and Benefits of Genetic Testing and supplement


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Tammy English

Recent evidence from one CADMA supported project (Gotlib/Chen) suggests that individuals with two short alleles in promoter region of the serotonin transporter gene are more biologically reactive to stress, as indexed by higher secretion of cortisol, while making difficult decisions.  Evidence from two other CADMA supported projects (Mikels/Garber/Goldstein/Carstensen and Samanez-Larkin/Knutson/Nielsen/Carstensen) suggests that there are likely age differences in processing information about potential risks and benefits. Whether individualized risk information would eliminate or heighten such processing biases remains to be evaluated. 

The researchers proposed to evaluate immediate and delayed cognitive consequences of receiving results of comprehensive genetic screening. The research team recruited middle-aged and younger adults to participate in this four-phase study where they receive population-based estimates of their risk for specific health conditions as well as personalized, genetic-based risk estimates of the health conditions. They collected data from almost 140 participants (exceeding the target sample size of 135).

During the time working on this project, the researchers perfected the procedures for acquiring and disseminating genetic risk information (e.g., collecting saliva samples to be sent out to 23andMe's laboratory, setting up a 23andMe account for each participant and pulling out specific risk information, presenting risk estimates under standardized conditions in the laboratory), as well as recording psychophysiological reactions to this information. The researchers have finished data collection (N = 163) and preliminary analysis are now working on writing up the findings. Findings have already been presented at Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual conference in San Diego, CA.