Beliefs About Genes and Environment as Determinants of Behavioral Characteristics
Posted: 29 Jul 2009
This study investigates beliefs about the determinants of such behavioral characteristics as intelligence, athleticism, obesity, and alcoholism by asking respondents to the 2004 General Social Survey to rate vignettes describing individuals exhibiting these characteristics along a 21-point scale ranging from complete genetic determination to complete environmental determination. The vignettes systematically varied the social desirability of the characteristic as well as the race and gender of the person exhibiting it. We analyzed the effect of the carefully counterbalanced vignette characteristics and the corresponding rater characteristics on respondents’ ratings of the vignettes, hypothesizing that these ratings would reflect mechanisms of claiming credit for desirable characteristics and avoiding blame for undesirable ones. Contrary to our expectations, we found no effect of any of the vignette characteristics on the ratings, and only two significant main effects of respondent demographic characteristics: Black respondents were more likely to use genetic ratings; and better educated respondents, environmental ones.
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