The representation of the concept of heritability in Dutch written news media
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A central question within biology is whether observed phenotypic variation in human health and disease is due to genes and/or environment and to what extent. More and more research results are published describing genetic components of human traits. Heritability is the parameter being used in this kind of research. Heritability describes the proportion of phenotypic variation of a certain trait that is due to genetic variation. The meaning of heritability is widely misunderstood. Misconceptions influence people’s beliefs about the role of genes in the development of traits and subsequently affect people’s preventive behavior. In order to eventually prevent these misconceptions, it is of importance to know how sources of genetics information represent the concept of heritability. For adults who finished formal education, media are the primary source of information about science and health-related issues. In this study, it was analyzed how Dutch written news media articles represent the concept of heritability and the concepts underlying its definition: genes, environment and variation. It was found that representations of concepts underlying heritability and of the concept of heritability itself are often too short-sighted or even lacking, hereby failing to establish a clear message on the meaning of heritability and possibly leading to misconceptions. This applies especially to news articles reporting on a scientific study. A more careful consideration of the representation of the concepts underlying heritability and the concept of heritability itself might improve the representation of heritability.