The scientists recruited 200 women unhappy about their weight and gave them a 10-minute “appointment” with a virtual doctor. The virtual clinician gave each woman one of four presentations. One stressed genetic factors, delivered in a supportive style. A second also emphasized genomics, but it was given in a directive, “doctor-knows-best” manner. A third was supportive but focused only on personal behavior. The fourth stressed behavior but in a directive manner.

Not surprisingly, the volunteers liked the supportive virtual clinician best, especially when the doctor also offered genetic information, saying this approach made them feel less stigmatized and better about themselves. “People feel less blame when doctors talk about genetic factors,” Persky says. “In obesity, we find this idea of genetic predisposition resonates with people.”