Risk and Culture: Is Synthetic Biology Different?

16 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2009 Last revised: 17 Feb 2014

See all articles by Dan M. Kahan

Dan M. Kahan

Yale Law School

Donald Braman

George Washington University - Law School; Cultural Cognition Project

Gregory N. Mandel

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: February 20, 2009


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.

Keywords: cultural cognition, risk perception, synthetic biology

Suggested Citation

Kahan, Dan M. and Braman, Donald and Mandel, Gregory, Risk and Culture: Is Synthetic Biology Different? (February 20, 2009). Harvard Law School Program on Risk Regulation Research Paper No. 09-2, Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 190, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1347165 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1347165

Dan M. Kahan (Contact Author)

Yale 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 )

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United States
202-491-8843 (Phone)
202 491-8843 (Fax)

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

Gregory Mandel

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States
(215) 204-2381 (Phone)

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