Nanotechnology: People hear what they want to hear

A recent study by Yale Law School on how people’s views on nanotechnology change when they learn more information found that people seem to use whatever they are told to reinforce what they expect to hear. See the graph and analysis on this page:

There were even more dramatic differences in the reactions of subgroups of subjects defined in terms of their values. The theory of “cultural cognition” posits that individuals process information in a way that reflects and reinforces their general preferences about how society should be organized. Egalitarians and communitarians, for example, tend to be sensitive to claims of environmental and technological risks because ameliorating such risks justifies regulating commercial activities that generate inequality and legitimize unconstrained pursuit of self-interest. Individualists, in contrast, tend to be skeptical about such risks, in line with their concern to ward off contraction of the sphere of individual initiative. So do hierarchists, who tend to see assertions of environmental technological risks as challenging the competence of governmental and social elites. Whereas subjects who subscribed to these various worldviews did not have markedly different attitudes in the “no information” group, those in the “information exposure” group divided along exactly these lines.

Well. that’s depressing, but not too surprising, I suppose. And which group’s views are more accurate: the individualists, the hierarchs, the egalitarians, or the communitarians?

On the bright side, before given additional information, 53% overall said the benefits outweight the risks, while only 36% said the opposite. Oddly, on this same page, the views of Republicans, Democrats, Liberals, and Conservatives are all pretty close. —Christine

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