The Future of Nanotechnology Risk Perceptions: An Experimental Investigation of Two Hypotheses

29 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2008  

Dan M. Kahan

Yale University - Law School

Donald Braman

George Washington University - Law School; Cultural Cognition Project

Paul Slovic

Decision Research; University of Oregon - Department of Psychology

John Gastil

Pennsylvania State University

Geoffrey L. Cohen

University of Colorado - Department of Psychology

Date Written: January 31, 2008

Abstract

This paper reports the results of an experiment designed to test competing conjectures about the evolution of public attitudes toward nanotechnology. The rational enlightenment hypothesis holds that members of the public will become favorably disposed to nanotechnology as balanced and accurate information about it disseminates. The cultural cognition hypothesis, in contrast, holds that members of the public are likely to polarize along cultural lines when exposed to such information. Using a between-subjects design (N = 1,862), the experiment compared the perceptions of subjects exposed to balanced information on the risks and benefits of nanotechnology to the perceptions of subjects exposed to no information. The results strongly confirmed the cultural polarization hypothesis and furnished no support for the rational enlightenment hypothesis. Data obtained in the experiment also suggested that the observed correlation in the general public between familiarity with nanotechnology and a positive view of it is spurious: familiarity does not cause a favorable view; rather other influences, including individualistic cultural values, incline certain individuals both to form a positive view and to learn about nanotechnology. The paper also discusses the implications of these findings for promoting informed public understandings of nanotechnology.

Keywords: nanotechnology, cultural cognition, risk perception

Suggested Citation

Kahan, Dan M. and Braman, Donald and Slovic, Paul and Gastil, John and Cohen, Geoffrey L., The Future of Nanotechnology Risk Perceptions: An Experimental Investigation of Two Hypotheses (January 31, 2008). Harvard Law School Program on Risk Regulation Research Paper No. 08-24. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1089230 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1089230

Dan M. Kahan (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.culturalcognition.net/kahan

Donald Braman

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

Cultural Cognition Project ( email )

2000 H St NW
2000 H Street
Washington, DC 20052 20052
United States
202-491-8843 (Phone)
202 491-8843 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.culturalcognition.net/braman

Paul Slovic

Decision Research ( email )

1201 Oak Street, Suite 200
Eugene, OR 97401
United States
541-485-2400 (Phone)
541-485-2403 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.decisionresearch.org

University of Oregon - Department of Psychology ( email )

Eugene, OR 97403
United States
541-485-2400 (Phone)

John Gastil

Pennsylvania State University ( email )

University Park, PA 16802
United States

Geoffrey L. Cohen

University of Colorado - Department of Psychology ( email )

1070 Edinboro Drive
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

HOME PAGE: http://psych.colorado.edu/~social/faculty.html

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