“Where do I Belong?” DNA Test Results and Self-Perceptions of Identity

Theunissen, Catherine A.
Matthews, Justin
Frommherz, Gudrun
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Master of Communication Studies
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Auckland University of Technology

DNA testing has increased exponentially, with direct-to-consumer tests becoming more available, accessible and cheaper. Increasingly, people take DNA tests to learn additional information about who they are and where they come from. However, until now, scholarship has paid limited attention to the potential effects of DNA testing on individuals’ identities. This study is one of the first to explore the potential implications and effects of DNA test results on individuals’ perceptions of their identity/identities.

In this study, a thematic analysis is used to examine 16 semi-structured in-depth interviews with participants who have taken DNA tests. The participants were recruited using purposive and snowball sampling, and came from a range of age groups, genders, and ethnic backgrounds. The findings revealed that feelings of belonging to a group or place were particularly crucial to participants’ identities. Moreover, family identities were frequently challenged by DNA test results. Because DNA test results show individuals’ biogeographic ancestry, these results affected participants’ sense of feeling more, or less, connected to their perceived social groups. These feelings of belonging (or not) resulted in disturbances to their sense of self, which required participants to re-align their group and personal identities, including their family, biological, social, ethnic, cultural, national and religious identities.

The study illustrates the importance participants attach to their different identities and that DNA tests affect their identity self-perceptions. It also demonstrates that DNA tests have social and personal effects that have, until now, been under-explored. As the industry continues to grow in popularity and economically, further research is needed to investigate their effects on individuals and society.

DNA test , Belonging , Direct-to-consumer tests , Thematic analysis , Biogeographic ancestry , Social groups , Biological identity , Personal identity , Ethnic identity , Cultural identity , National identity , Religious identity , Self-perceptions , Genealogy , Ancestry , Communication , Relationships , Family stories , Family identity , Place connection
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