• Article

Genetic counselors' implicit racial attitudes and their relationship to communication

OBJECTIVE: Implicit racial attitudes are thought to shape interpersonal interactions and may contribute to health-care disparities. This study explored the relationship between genetic counselors' implicit racial attitudes and their communication during simulated genetic counseling sessions.

METHOD: A nationally representative sample of genetic counselors completed a web-based survey that included the Race Implicit Association Test (IAT; Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998; Cooper et al., 2012). A subset of these counselors (n = 67) had participated in an earlier study in which they were video recorded counseling Black, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic White SCs about their prenatal or cancer risks. The counselors' IAT scores were related to their session communications through robust regression modeling.

RESULTS: Genetic counselors showed a moderate to strong pro-White bias on the Race IAT (M = 0.41, SD = 0.35). Counselors with stronger pro-White bias were rated as displaying lower levels of positive affect (p < .05) and tended to use less emotionally responsive communication (p < .10) when counseling minority SCs. When counseling White SCs, pro-White bias was associated with lower levels of verbal dominance during sessions (p < .10). Stronger pro-White bias was also associated with more positive ratings of counselors' nonverbal effectiveness by White SCs.

CONCLUSION: Implicit racial bias is associated with negative markers of communication in minority client sessions and may contribute to racial disparities in processes of care related to genetic services.


Schaa, K. L., Roter, D. L., Biesecker, B. B., Cooper, L. A., & Erby, L. H. (2015). Genetic counselors' implicit racial attitudes and their relationship to communication. Health Psychology, 34(2), 111-9. https://doi.org/10.1037/hea0000155

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