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The Cultural Cognition Project is a group of scholars interested in studying how cultural values shape public risk perceptions and related policy beliefs. Cultural cognition refers to the tendency of individuals to conform their beliefs about disputed matters of fact (e.g., whether global warming is a serious threat; whether the death penalty deters murder; whether gun control makes society more safe or less) to values that define their cultural identities. Project members are using the methods of various disciplines -- including social psychology, anthropology, communications, and political science -- to chart the impact of this phenomenon and to identify the mechanisms through which it operates. The Project also has an explicit normative objective: to identify processes of democratic decisionmaking by which society can resolve culturally grounded differences in belief in a manner that is both congenial to persons of diverse cultural outlooks and consistent with sound public policymaking.

Below are examples of CCP studies and research projects.

 

Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus

Why doesn't "scientific consensus" settle disputes about climate change and other issues? The answer, a CCP experimental study suggests, is not that only some citizens view scientific opinion as important, but rather that citizens of diverse cultural outlooks form different perceptions of what most scientists believe. (Published in the Journal of Risk Research.)

 

Vaccine Science Communication Environment

This project has two goals: first, to enlarge societal understanding of how to promote informed public engagement with valid empirical evidence on the efficacy and safety of vaccines; and second, to advance societal recognition of the need to use valid empirical evidence to guide communication on vaccines and other applications of science essential to societal well-being.


 

Science Literacy, Numeracy & Culture

The capacity of citizens to make sense of climate change and other risk issues depends at least in part on their knowledge of science and their ability to engage in technical reasoning. What is the relationship between these forms of comprehension and cultural cognition? CCP members are investigating this question in research project funded in part by the National Science Foundation (SES-0922714).

 

Geogengineering and Cultural Depolarization

"Geoengineering" refers to technologies aimed at modifying the earth's climate to offset the consequences of global warming. But what impact might the advent of geoengineering have on the science communication environment? A CCP study shows that geoengineering might cool the debate over climate change as much as it cools the earth's temperature.


 

Facts and Law

Adjudication frequently turns on contested issues of fact (e.g., whether protestors blocked an abortion clinic entrance or whether a motorist fleeing police put innocent life at risk), which must be determined either by juries or judges. CCP is conducting experimental studies to determine how cultural values influence adjudicatory fact findings and public reactions to the same.


 

Synthetic Biology Risk Perceptions 

Public consciousness of the promise and perils of synthetic biology is only now beginning to emerge.  In a project funded by the National Science Foundation (SES-0922714), the Cultural Cognition Project will conduct a series of experimental studies aimed at anticipating how values could influence synthetic biology risk perceptions and how information should be communicated to assure that public deliberations about the development of synthetic biology are informed by the best available scientific information. 



 

Nanotechnology Risk Perceptions

As a component of its NSF-funded project on the mechanisms of cultural cognition, the Cultural Cogntion Project, in collaboration with the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, is conducting research to determine what people think about nanotechnology and how they respond to information about it. Two major experimental studies have already been completed, and others are underway. 

 

The 2nd National Risk and Culture Study

Individuals' expectations about the policy solution to global warming strongly influences their willingness to credit information about climate change. When told the solution to global warming is increased antipollution measures, persons of individualistic and hierarchic worldviews become less willing to credit information suggesting that global warming exists, is caused by humans, and poses significant societal dangers. Persons with such outlooks are more willing to credit the same information when told the solution to global warming is increased reliance on nuclear power generation.