Behavioral Impact of Return of Genetic Test Results for Complex Disease: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Maia J. Frieser, Sylia Wilson, Scott Vrieze

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Objective: Advances in genomewide association studies have made possible the return of genetic risk results for complex diseases. Two concerns about these results are (a) negative psychological consequences and (b) viewing probabilistic results as deterministic, leading to misinterpretation and inappropriate decisions. The present study evaluates these concerns through a meta-analytic review of existing literature. Method: Seventeen genetic testing studies of complex disease, including 1,171 participants and reporting 195 effects, 104 of which were unadjusted for covariates, were meta-analyzed under a random effects model. Diseases included Alzheimer's, cardiovascular and coronary heart disease, lung cancer, melanoma, thrombophilia, and type II diabetes. Six domains of behavioral-psychological reactions were examined. Results: Carriers showed significantly increased self-reported behavior change compared to noncarriers when assessed 6 months or later after results return (Hedges's g = .36, p = .019). Conclusions: Return of genetic testing results for complex disease does not strongly impact self-reported negative behavior or psychological function of at-risk individuals. Return of results does appear to moderately increase self-reported healthy behavior in carriers, although research on objectively observed behavior change is needed. This is a growing area of research, with preliminary results suggesting potential positive implications of genetic testing for complex disease on behavior change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1134-1144
Number of pages11
JournalHealth Psychology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 American Psychological Association.


  • Complex disease
  • Genetic essentialism
  • Genetic testing
  • Meta-analysis
  • Return of results


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