41 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2007 Last revised: 17 Jul 2014
Date Written: March 7, 2007
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: 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