Direct-to-Consumer Marketing: Can Genetic Knowledge Tell Us The Difference Between What Consumers Think They Know Versus What They Actually Know? …achieve better outcomes ?

CHICAGO, May 25, 2012
With the rapid growth of direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing of genetic tests, this article examines whether consumers’ actual genetic knowledge matches how much they think they know, and how educational intervention can affect both genetic literacy and the gap between consumers’ actual and perceived genetic knowledge.

The article was motivated by a concern that the complexity of genetic science may impede informed decision making. If consumers think they know more or less about genetic science than they actually know, it can lead to suboptimal decisions that prove harmful to consumer welfare. For example, a consumer might hastily submit to a genetic test without considering its social and emotional consequences, or forgo a test that could be truly beneficial.

Through two empirical studies, Dr. Yvette Pearson and Dr. Yuping Liu-Thompkins find that there is indeed a significant gap in genetic knowledge. Surprisingly, participants showed signs of underconfidence. This is contrary to many consumption contexts where overconfidence is the norm. The article goes on to explore effective educational interventions that can close consumers’ knowledge gap. It shows the importance of timely feedback in the educational process in order to improve both learning and knowledge calibration. This analysis appears in the Spring 2012 issue of the American Marketing Association’s Journal of Public Policy and Marketing.

“There is currently limited regulation on either the quality of DTC genetic tests or the accompanying information provided to consumers. Given the absence of significant oversight, it is vital to improve consumer education in this area. The creation of a more genetically literate public that also understands the limitations of their knowledge will better ensure that consumers’ decisions to use DTC genetic tests constitute genuinely informed decisions,” write Dr. Yvette Pearson and Dr. Yuping Liu-Thompkins.

While not knowing enough can be harmful, a key lesson learned is that lacking a correct view of one’s own knowledge is equally problematic. The good news is that this can be corrected with proper education. Dispelling the myth of costly extensive genetic education, the article shows that even a few short online educational modules can be effective in enhancing consumers’ genetic knowledge. By building on existing health literacy resources, it is possible to achieve better outcomes in genetic testing.