Sunday, November 23, 2008

Yale Law School does some research into "Emotions, Values, and Information: The Future of Nanotechnology"

I found this link while I was looking for some information on nanoweapons (which I will blog on soon when I can find some more information on the topic):

Emotions, Values, and Information: The Future of Nanotechnology

Members of the Cultural Cognition Project conducted a major experimental survey study of nanotechnology risk perceptions. The study involved 1,800 subjects, whose views were collected in mid to late December 2006. The issues are investigation included: attitudes toward nanotechnology risks and benefits generally; the role of affect and cultural values in the formation of those perceptions; and the response of persons of different values to information about nanotechnology.

The study resulted in numerous important findings, which are set forth completely in The Future of Nanotechnology Risk Perceptions: An Experimental Investigation and Affect, Values, and Nanotechnology Risk Perceptions, and also summarized in a report prepared for the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.

The study generated two principle findings.

(1) Existing reactions to nanotechnology are affect driven.

The sign (positive or negative) and intensity of subjects’ visceral or emotional reactions toward nanotechnology explained eight times as much of the variance in their perceptions of its risks as did either gender or race. The impact of affect was approximately seven times larger than the impact of confidence in government to regulate risks effectively, six times larger than the impact of education, and four times larger than the impact of perception of other environmental risks. The next biggest influence — how much subjects reported knowing about nanotechnology before the study — was less than half that of affect.

This finding, of course, begs the question, What explains variance in affect? A variety of things, we found, but among the strongest predictors of our subjects’ affective response to nanotechnology was their perceptions of other environmental risks, such as nuclear power and global warming.

The subjects in our study seemed to have a gut reaction to nanotechnology, a relatively novel risk, that was informed by their attitudes toward more familiar environmental dangers.

(2) The second major finding had to do with what happens when individuals learn more about nanotechnology. To address this issue, we divided our sample into two and furnished one with additional information about nanotechnology before eliciting their views. That information consisted of two, relatively short paragraphs, one setting forth potential benefits of nanotechnology and other potential risks. We then compared the views of subjects who received this information to those who didn’t receive any.

Overall, there was no difference in the views of our “no information” and our “information exposed” subjects on the relative risks and benefits of nanotechnology. Again, perfectly predictable, given the balanced nature of the information we supplied.

But when we examined the views of subgroups of respondents defined with reference to their values, we discovered something much more interesting: polarization of our subjects along cultural and ideological lines.

For summaries of those findings, click on the links below:

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