Are genetic outcomes inevitable?
UBC professor Steven Heine discusses beliefs about DNA’s role in charting our futures
Does DNA determine our destiny?
That question, and others, made for a lively lecture on Thursday, April 14, by Steven Heine, a visiting social and cultural psychology professor from the University of British Columbia.
Sponsored by Concordia’s Department of Psychology, the presentation was part of the Miriam Roland Endowed Lecture Series — a biennial event.
“It’s my pleasure to do this for the Department of Psychology,” said Roland, the benefactor, who mingled easily with students before the lecture. “Especially since I have a degree in counselling psychology.”
Clinical psychologist Andrew Ryder, associate professor and director of clinical training in Concordia’s Department of Psychology, introduced Heine, praising his popular textbook Cultural Psychology, and thanked Roland for her financial support.
“Because of this endowment, we’re able to bring in high-caliber speakers and researchers, such as Steve Heine,” said Ryder, co-director of the Centre for Clinical Research in Health (CCRH).
“We wanted to bring in someone who could speak to the full range of psychology — from the sociocultural to the neurobiological,” he said. “At Concordia, we talk a lot about being interdisciplinary, but it’s equally important to recognize that psychology itself is intrinsically interdisciplinary.”
The genomic revolution
Heine’s first slide in the presentation was also the title of his upcoming book, DNA Is Not Destiny.
What and how we think about genes, he opened, can be distorted by people believing in something he calls “essences” — invisible, inherent forces at play — and projecting those essentialist biases onto genetics. For example, when a transplant recipient thinks they inherited traits of the donor.
“People the world over are essentialist thinkers,” he said. “They are attracted to the idea that hidden essences make things as they are. And because genetic concepts remind people of essences, they tend to think of genes in ways similar to essences. That is, people tend to think about genetic causes as immutable, deterministic, homogenous, discrete and natural.”
Heine went on to examine how essentialist biases lead people to think differently about race, ancestry, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), crime, eugenics and disease whenever these are described in genetic terms.
“Our essentialist biases make people vulnerable to the sensationalist hype that has emerged with the genomic revolution and access to direct-to-consumer genotyping services,” concluded Heine, who recommends more genetic education for the general public to reduce essentialist thinking and counteract the idea that genetic causes are inevitable.
source :Concordia University