Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Dr. Joseph Cappella

Second Advisor

Dr. Michael Delli Carpini

Third Advisor

Dr. Vincent Price


Since the completion of the Human Genome Project, knowledge about the genetic basis of many traits and common diseases has increased substantially (Kessler et al., 2007). As progress in the field of genetics continues to occur at a rapid pace, there is growing concern about the social and ethical consequences of these advances. One area of concern that merits more empirical research is the impact of messages linking genetic traits with racial differences. Research in this area is important because recent studies have shown that casting race as a biological marker can provide justification for a racially inequitable status quo and for the continued social marginalization of historically disadvantaged groups (Williams & Eberhardt, 2008). At the same time, most of the U.S. public is at the early stages of forming beliefs and attitudes about genomics, and the media are largely influential in citizens’ awareness and understanding of genetics (Smith, 2007).

This dissertation examines the effects of messages about genetics, race, and health on public opinion about personalized medicine and health policy. A series of three experiments embedded in online surveys were used to assess the impact of racial cues and controllability attributions on audience’s opinions about current health topics and policies related to personalized medicine and genetics. Results provide evidence that racial cues and controllability attributions in health messages are consequential in shaping public opinion about genetics and medicine, as well as related policy preferences. Messages about medical advances related to genetics may raise issues of trust and acceptance among minority groups, while in-group racial cues may mitigate these concerns. Framing health risks as either controllable (behavioral) or uncontrollable (genetic) influences peoples’ opinions, causal attributions for disease, and health policy preferences. These effects were also conditioned by relevant background variables, including education, political ideology, and racial attitudes. The findings support the idea that information about genetics, race, and health function within an intricate structure of attitudes and beliefs (Condit & Bates, 2005). Implications of these findings are discussed and directions for future research are proposed.