Cultural Cognition of the Risks and Benefits of Nanotechnology
Tuesday, September 11, 2007 at 5:25PM
Dan Kahan in emerging technologies, nanotechnology, wilson center

An experiment conducted by CCP researchers and published in Nature Nanotechnology shows that individuals' cultural predispositions guide their search for, and interpretation of, information on the risks and benefits of nanotechnology.

Based on public opinion polls that show that persons most familiar with nanotechnology are most likely to believe it is safe, many commentators have inferred that the public generally will perceive it to pose little or no risk as they learn more about it. An experimental study (N = 1,850), conducted as part of CCP's ongoing Nanotechnology Risk Perceptions Project , found no support for this assumption. Exposed to balanced information, subjects did not react in a uniform, much less a uniformly positive manner, but rather polarized along lines consistent with cultural predispositions toward technological risk generally. The study found, in addition, that a pro-technology cultural predisposition strongly predicts familiarity with nanotechnology; commentators who construe poll results as implying familiarity will generate low perceived risk are confusing cause and effect. The implications for risk communication are briefly considered. 

Article originally appeared on cultural cognition project (
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