The effect of question framing and response options on the relationship between racial attitudes and beliefs about genes as causes of behavior

Prior research suggests that the attribution of individual and group differences to genetic causes is correlated with prejudiced attitudes toward minority groups. Our study suggests that these findings may be due to the wording of the questions and to the choice of response options. Using a series of vignettes in an online survey, we find a relationship between racial attitudes and genetic attributions when respondents are asked to make causal attributions of differences between racial groups. However, when they are asked to make causal attributions for characteristics shown by individuals, no such relationship is found. The response scale used appears to make less, if any, difference in the results. These findings indicate that the way questions about genetic causation of behavior are framed makes a significant contribution to the answers obtained because it significantly changes the meaning of the questions. We argue that such framing needs to be carefully attended to, not only in posing research questions but also in discourse about genetics more generally. © The Author 2010. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Association for Public Opinion Research. All rights reserved.