Risk and Culture: Is Synthetic Biology Different?
Dan M. Kahan
Yale University - Law School; Harvard University - Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics
George Washington University - Law School; Cultural Cognition Project
Gregory N. Mandel
Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law
February 20, 2009
Harvard Law School Program on Risk Regulation Research Paper No. 09-2
Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 190
Cultural cognition refers to the influence that individuals' values have on their perceptions of technological risk. We conducted a study to assess the cultural cognition of synthetic biology risks. Examining the attitudes of a large and diverse sample of Americans (N = 1,500), we found that hierarchical, conservative, and highly religious individuals - persons who normally are most skeptical of claims of environmental risks (including those relating to nuclear power and global warming) - are the persons most concerned about synthetic biology risks. We attribute this inversion of the normal cultural profile of risk perceptions to the seemingly anti-religious connotations of synthetic biology. We discuss implications of this finding for future study and for risk communication.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 16
Keywords: cultural cognition, risk perception, synthetic biology
Date posted: February 21, 2009 ; Last revised: February 17, 2014
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