As a biology major, many of my classes have included studying the fundamentals of genetics or investigating the way genetics influence heritability of certain diseases. When I began taking upper-division psychology courses, the genetic factors of psychological disorders became an important part of the material. I was exposed to a new idea: that genes were equally important in studying somatic diseases as they were to psychological disorders. As important as genetics are to psychology, they are not part of the required courses for the major; I found many of my peers in psychology courses did not have a grasp on genetic fundamentals in the same way biology majors did. This was a disconnect that I also found in my own life outside the classroom. Growing up, my mother consistently reminded me to limit my carbs and watch my sugars. Diabetes was very prevalent in my family and I was also at risk. I was repeatedly reminded of my own genes and the risk I faced in having this biological disorder. However, my friend whose father was an alcoholic did not warn her in the same way. While she did know of her father's history, she was not warned of the potential for her to become an alcoholic. While my behavior was altered due to my mother's warning and my own knowledge of the genetic risk of diabetes, I wondered if other people at genetic risk of psychological disorders also altered their behavior. Through my thesis, I hope to answer if students have the same perceived genetic knowledge of psychological diseases as they do for biological ones. In my experience, it is not as well known that psychological disorders have genetic factors. For example, alcohol is commonly used by college students. Alcohol use disorder is present in 16.2% of college aged students and "40-60% of the variance of risk explained by genetic influences." (DSM V, 2013) Compare this to diabetes that has "several common genetic variants that account for about 10% of the total genetic effects," but is much more openly discussed even though it is less genetically linked. (McVay, 2015)This stems from the stigma/taboo surrounding many psychological disorders. If students do know that psychological disorder are genetically influenced, I expect their knowledge to be skewed or inaccurate. As part of a survey, I hope to see how strong they believe the genetic risk of certain diseases are as well as where they gained this knowledge. I hypothesize that only students with a background in psychology will be able to correctly assign the genetic risk of the four presented diseases. Completing this thesis will require in-depth study of the genetic factors, an understanding of the way each disease is perceived and understood by the general population, and a statistical analysis of the survey responses. If the survey data turns out as I expect where students do not have a strong grasp of diseases that could potentially influence their own health, I hope to find a way to educate students on biological and psychological diseases, their genetic risk, and how to speak openly about them.
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