Genetic counseling is a communication process with two main functions: information provision and supportive counseling. The information transmission function may be compromised by disruptions that occur during counseling. At least two mediators are possible: (a) disruptions may interfere with memory by creating distractions and divided attention during encoding or (b) disruptions may degrade the flow of interaction which requires that participants engage in conversation repair rather than the task at hand. This study examined both alternatives in a group of parents (N=20 families, 40 individual parents) whose infant had received a newborn screening for cystic fibrosis (CF). Upon arrival at the hospital, each parent completed a questionnaire designed to assess his or her knowledge of CF. Their interaction with the genetic counselor was videotaped and coded for the presence of disruptions. Six weeks after the counseling, parents again completed the knowledge measure. The data showed a direct negative effect for disruptions during counseling on memory for CF-related risk information six weeks later. Disruptions also produced the anticipated effect on conversation, but counter to expectations, interruptions of conversation flow was positively associated with knowledge at time 2.
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