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Affect, Values, and Nanotechnology Risk Perceptions: An Experimental Investigation

41 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2007 Last revised: 17 Jul 2014

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

Date Written: March 7, 2007

Abstract

Despite knowing little about nanotechnology (so to speak), members of the public readily form opinions on whether its potential risks outweigh its potential benefits. On what basis are they forming their judgments? How are their views likely to evolve as they become exposed to more information about this novel science? We conducted a survey experiment (N = 1,850) to answer these questions. We found that public perceptions of nanotechnology risks, like public perceptions of societal risks generally, are largely affect driven: individuals' visceral reactions to nanotechnology (ones likely based on attitudes toward environmental risks generally) explain more of the variance in individuals' perceptions of nanotechnology's risks and benefits than does any other influence. These views are not static: even a small amount of information can generate changes in perceptions. But how those perceptions change depends heavily on individuals' values. Using a between-subjects design, we found that individuals exposed to balanced information polarize along cultural and political lines relative to individuals not exposed to information. We discuss what these findings imply for understanding of risk perceptions generally and for the future of nanotechnology as a subject of political conflict and regulation.

Keywords: risk, norms, cultural cognition, emotion, nanotechnology

Suggested Citation

Kahan, Dan M. and Slovic, Paul and Braman, Donald and Gastil, John and Cohen, Geoffrey L., Affect, Values, and Nanotechnology Risk Perceptions: An Experimental Investigation (March 7, 2007). GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 261; Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 155; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 261; 2nd Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=968652 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.968652

Dan 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 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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