Home genetic testing has become a multibillion-dollar industry that has seen millions of people around the world sign up for swab kits in hopes of uncovering the secrets hidden in their genomes.
Researchers at Vancouver’s University of British Columbia focused on how the results shape perceptions of race and ethnicity. They interviewed 100 Americans from various ethnic and racial backgrounds who had taken the tests, returning to them 18 months later to examine whether the tests had gradually shifted how they saw their identity. The findings, published this week in the American Journal of Sociology, showed that most of participants – 59% – did not alter their views on their identity, despite receiving new information from the tests.
“I was surprised to find that, for most people, they didn’t adopt the ancestries suggested by the test,” said Wendy Roth, a sociologist and lead author of the study. Those who did heed the results did so on a selective basis, she added. “They didn’t embrace them full-scale – they cherry picked.” The findings suggest that genetic testing could end up reinforcing race privilege, said Roth. “It really emphasises to me that race is much more complex than just information that’s encoded within your genes,” she said. “Even if they are getting this information, they still interpret this information in terms of who they want to be, how they want to present themselves and what they think society will accept. And then they chose to either embrace it or ignore it based on that.”