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Does Genetic Testing Pose Psychosocial Risks?

For the last quarter century, researchers have been asking whether genetic information might have negative psychosocial effects. Anxiety, depression, disrupted relationships, and heightened stigmatization have all been posited as possible outcomes—but not consistently found. What accounts for the discrepancy?

A new special report published by The Hastings Center reveals some harms, but too many variables for “one-size-fits-all” answers. The answers will depend on factors that include the condition being tested for, the reason for the testing, the social context of the testing, and the psychology of the individual being tested. 

“Just coming to better understanding why one-size-fits-all answers will not be forthcoming is itself progress,” states the introduction to the report, written by its editors, Erik Parens, a senior research scholar at The Hastings Center, and Paul Appelbaum, the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine and Law, and director of the Center for Law, Ethics and Psychiatry at Columbia University, who is a Hastings Center Fellow.

The special report, “Looking for the Psychosocial Impacts of Genetic Information,” is the product of a conference of the same name held at Columbia University in February 2018 and cosponsored by Columbia’s Center for Research on Ethical, Legal & Social Implications of Psychiatric, Neurologic & Behavioral Genetics and The Hastings Center. Learn more and see conference presentationsRead the special report for free.