23 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2008
Date Written: February 4, 2008
We present the results from the second in a series of ongoing experimental studies of public perceptions of nanotechnology risks. Like the first study, the current one found that members of the public, most of whom know little or nothing about nanotechnology, polarize along cultural lines when exposed to information about it. Extending previous results, the current study also found that cultural polarization of this sort interacts with the perceived cultural identities of policy advocates. Polarization along expected lines grew even more extreme when subjects of diverse cultural outlooks observed an advocate whose values they share advancing an argument they were predisposed to accept, and an advocate whose values they reject advancing an argument they were predisposed to resist. But when those same advocates were assigned the opposite positions, subjects formed perceptions of nanotechnology risks diametrically opposed to the ones normally associated with their own cultural predispositions. Finally, when there was no consistent relationship between the perceived values of advocates and positions taken on nanotechnology risk and benefits, cultural polarization was neutralized. The significance of these findings for promotion of informed public understanding of nanotechnology is discussed.
Keywords: nanotechnology, cultural cognition, risk perception, cultural credibility heuristic, polarization, biased assimilation
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Kahan, Dan M. and Slovic, Paul and Braman, Donald and Gastil, John and Cohen, Geoffrey L. and Kysar, Douglas A., Biased Assimilation, Polarization, and Cultural Credibility: An Experimental Study of Nanotechnology Risk Perceptions (February 4, 2008). Harvard Law School Program on Risk Regulation Research Paper No. 08-25. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1090044 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1090044
By Dan Kahan