In 2023, University of Pennsylvania Sociology Department’s Dr. Wendy Roth and her Co-Principal Investigator Dr. Ariela Schachter at University of Washington in St. Louis were awarded an NIH R21 Grant to investigate the relative influence of genetic, phenotypic, and social attributes in shaping how individuals perceive other people’s race. 

The NIH R21 Grant: How Does Genetic Ancestry Testing Affect Perceptions of Race?  supports the exploration of the influences of racial appraisal through the use of a conjoint survey experiment.

Data Collection for the project began in early 2023 with 9,000 non-Hispanic Black, non-Hispanic White, and Hispanic participants in the U.S. to assess the power of genetic ancestry test (GAT) results, facial features, social attributes like racial self-identification before and after testing, and the social context to influence the racial classification of others. 

The project aims to (1) Assess the relative influences of genomic, phenotypic, and social attributes in racial perception, (2) Analyze the impact of the social context in which racial classifications are made, (3) Analyze the impact of observer characteristics and beliefs on their weighting of genomic, phenotypical, and social attributes in classifying a person’s race. 

More than 30 million people have taken direct-to-consumer genetic ancestry tests (GATs), but the social, ethical, and legal impacts of this phenomenon are not well understood. GATs have become one of the most common ways genomic awareness has increased in the public sphere. Many scholars believe GATs will shape individuals’ beliefs about race, including beliefs in essential racial differences and that races are genetically determined. Additionally, recent research shows that GATs lead some people to change their racial identity based on the reported genetic information. However, we know little about whether those genetically-influenced identity claims are accepted by others or whether information about an individual’s genetic ancestry influences how their race is perceived. Increased genomic knowledge may be shifting norms of racial classification. This could have significant social implications ranging from changing patient-provider interactions and assessments in healthcare settings to demographic shifts and identity-based political mobilization and affect broader issues including race relations, the allocation of resources, and healthcare provision. 

The team plans to present the first of their findings on how GATs may influence people’s understanding of race and the potential to change societal norms of racial classification at the American Sociological Associations 2023 Annual Conference. All future publications related to the study will be posted to this webpage.