The influence of the mass media on Australian primary students' understandings of genes and DNA

Jennifer Donovan

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Previous research with which I was involved concerned the genetics conceptions of Australian metropolitan students aged 10-15 years. Contrary to expectations based on the timing of the formal teaching of genetics in Australia in Year 10 (to 15 year olds), it was found that students as young as 10 years old were forming ideas about genetics, but that not all their ideas were scientifically correct. Chief among their misconceptions were ideas that genes and DNA were completely different entities, both structurally and functionally. Genes were thought to make people resemble their family members, whereas DNA was thought to make people individually identifiable, particularly as a prime suspect. When this research was presented, scientists, educators and public alike "blamed" the mass media for these misunderstandings. This doctoral research explored the foundation of that blame by examining the media habits and conceptions about genes and DNA of four regional samples of Australian primary students. An exploratory, mixed modes design utilized data from detailed media questionnaires (N = 141) and face-to-face interviews with a subsample of 62 primary students aged 10-12 years. Based on the literature, these research tools were developed for this study, although the interview protocol also drew in part from that used in our previous research. The generated data were subjected to quantitative and qualitative analysis. Specific mass media examples used by participants were examined for genetics content. Results indicate an average of five hours/day of media use, comprising mostly television. This viewing included DNA-focused crime shows rated for ages 15+ for 71% of the interviewed participants, and in all, 77% of them associated DNA with solving crime.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012


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