Biogeographic ancestry information facilitates genetic racial essentialism: Consequences for race-based judgments

Drexler James, Courtney M. Bonam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Direct-to-consumer genetic ancestry tests measure biogeographic ancestry (BGA), which refers to an individual's ancestral origin in relation to major population groups. There is growing concern that biogeographic information exaggerates both false beliefs about racial genetic differences and, ultimately, racial bias. Across three studies (N = 1317), we find that biogeographic information impacts racial categorization and beliefs about both genetic racial essentialism (i.e., the extent to which people believe that race is genetically derived) and biological race differences. Specifically, we find people are more likely to categorize Black/White biracial targets as Black and believe that a target is more biologically different from White people (e.g., has thicker skin) as the target's percent sub-Saharan African biogeographic ancestry (ABGA) increases (Studies 1 and 2). We also find that people misrepresent BGA as “race genes,” such that they perceive Black/White biracial targets with more ABGA as sharing more genes with Black people, which then predicts greater Black racial categorization of the target and increased beliefs that the target is susceptible to certain physical and mental illnesses (Study 2). Notably, BGA remains a predictor of these outcomes even when people know the target's specific racial ancestry, that is, their exact number of Black grandparents (Study 2). Finally, we find that exposing people to the idea that race is genetically derived, compared to biologically derived, exaggerates beliefs that genes determine both human life (genetic essentialism) and racial categories (genetic racial essentialism; Study 3). We discuss implications for studying psychological essentialism, racial bias, and racial health disparities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)631-661
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Applied Social Psychology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Journal of Applied Social Psychology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC.


Dive into the research topics of 'Biogeographic ancestry information facilitates genetic racial essentialism: Consequences for race-based judgments'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this