Cultural cognition of the risks and benefits of nanotechnology

Dan M. Kahan, Donald Braman, Paul Slovic, John Gastil, Geoffrey Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

383 Scopus citations


How is public opinion towards nanotechnology likely to evolve? The 'familiarity hypothesis' holds that support for nanotechnology will likely grow as awareness of it expands. The basis of this conjecture is opinion polling, which finds that few members of the public claim to know much about nanotechnology, but that those who say they do are substantially more likely to believe its benefits outweigh its risks. Some researchers, however, have avoided endorsing the familiarity hypothesis, stressing that cognitive heuristics and biases could create anxiety as the public learns more about this novel science. We conducted an experimental study aimed at determining how members of the public would react to balanced information about nanotechnology risks and benefits. Finding no support for the familiarity hypothesis, the study instead yielded strong evidence that public attitudes are likely to be shaped by psychological dynamics associated with cultural cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-90
Number of pages4
JournalNature nanotechnology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Bioengineering
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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