Public Attitudes toward Emerging Technologies: Examining the Interactive Effects of Cognitions and Affect on Public Attitudes towards Nanotechnology
Vol. 27, Num. 2
Citizens will use cognitive shortcuts --heuristics-- in forming their attitudes towards technology. Lee Scheufele and Lewenstein study those cognitive shortcuts in action as regards nanotechnology. They say, "Previous studies on public attitudes toward emerging technologies have treated cognitive and affective influences on public opinion as distinct, with little attention to the possible interaction between the two. Directly addressing this issue, we argue that cognitive and affective factors not only have important separate effects on public attitudes but also work in tandem to produce effects. In particular, it may be that affective variables shape the impact of cognitions and vice versa." Lee et. al. used a national telephone survey to test their concept of an interactive model of decision making about emerging technologies. Emotional heuristics (the things already felt and believed) -- specifically trust and negative emotions about nanotechnology -- will be more influential than objectively quantifiable probabilities. They report, "our analyses show that emotional heuristics moderate the effect that knowledge about nanotechnology has on people's overall attitudes toward nanotechnology, with knowledge having a weaker effect on attitudes for people who do show strong emotional reactions to the topic." Future research and policy making in this area must acknowledge that people associate nanotechnology with scientific controversy rather than unqualified scientific breakthroughs.