Misplaced hope on genetic technology

OVER-optimistic media reporting of genetic research in psychiatry could feed unrealistic public expectations about the power of genetic technology, Australian experts say.

Researchers from the University of New South Wales looked at the reporting of psychiatric genetics in 400 Australian news items from 1996 to 2009, in a systematic analysis.

They found that news stories on the causes of depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia focused mainly on the interaction between genes and the environment rather than on either factor alone. 

Among stories on the role of genes in the development of mental illness, nearly 80% portrayed genes as the cause of disease, rather than conferring susceptibility to disease.

Nearly 80% of media reports emphasised the potential positive impact of genetic technologies in treating mental illness – with only 20% canvassing negative impacts such as increasing stigma – likely reflecting