Biased Assimilation, Polarization, and Cultural Credibility: An Experimental Study of Nanotechnology Risk Perceptions

23 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2008  

Dan M. Kahan

Yale University - Law School

Paul Slovic

Decision Research; University of Oregon - Department of Psychology

Donald Braman

George Washington University - Law School; Cultural Cognition Project

John Gastil

Pennsylvania State University

Geoffrey L. Cohen

University of Colorado - Department of Psychology

Douglas A. Kysar

Yale University - Law School

Date Written: February 4, 2008

Abstract

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

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

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

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)

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

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

Douglas A. Kysar

Yale University - Law School ( email )

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

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