Talia Morstead, Anita DeLongis
Direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests have become an attractive product for those hoping to gain insight into their health, ancestry, and biological relatedness. In some cases, test results are unexpected, and lead to the revelation of previously undisclosed family secrets. A subset of individuals may pursue testing explicitly for this purpose; however, the psychosocial processes underlying this motivation remain unexamined. Grounded in the literature on family secrecy, trauma, and the development of self-concept, we tested a hypothesized mediation model to provide insight into this motivation among a sample of 433 individuals in pursuit of DTC genetic testing. In line with the documented association between maladaptive family communication patterns and trauma exposure in childhood, we found that exposure to adverse childhood experiences was associated with the motivation to pursue DTC genetic testing for the purpose of uncovering family secrets. We also found evidence of an indirect effect through reduced self-concept clarity. These findings suggest that impaired identity formation processes may have played a role in transmitting the effect. Furthermore, the findings highlight a novel way in which family histories may contribute to DTC genetic testing motivations. Future examination of these and other psychosocial phenomena that contribute to DTC genetic testing will be crucial to consider as the tests become increasingly accessible, and as the information they can provide becomes increasingly comprehensive. Findings from this line of research could help to identify for whom and under what conditions DTC genetic testing benefits well-being, and the conditions under which the act of testing and receipt of results could have adverse psychosocial effects. These insights will be of interest to genetic counselors working in the field of DTC genetic testing, and those working with individuals and families affected by unexpected test results.
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