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      Perceptions of risk from nanotechnologies and trust in stakeholders: a cross sectional study of public, academic, government and business attitudes

      , , ,
      BMC Public Health
      BioMed Central
      Nanotechnologies, Risk, Trust, Perception, Stakeholders

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          Policy makers and regulators are constantly required to make decisions despite the existence of substantial uncertainty regarding the outcomes of their proposed decisions. Understanding stakeholder views is an essential part of addressing this uncertainty, which provides insight into the possible social reactions and tolerance of unpredictable risks. In the field of nanotechnology, large uncertainties exist regarding the real and perceived risks this technology may have on society. Better evidence is needed to confront this issue.


          We undertook a computer assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) survey of the Australian public and a parallel survey of those involved in nanotechnology from the academic, business and government sectors. Analysis included comparisons of proportions and logistic regression techniques. We explored perceptions of nanotechnology risks both to health and in a range of products. We examined views on four trust actors.


          The general public’s perception of risk was significantly higher than that expressed by other stakeholders. The public bestows less trust in certain trust actors than do academics or government officers, giving its greatest trust to scientists. Higher levels of public trust were generally associated with lower perceptions of risk. Nanotechnology in food and cosmetics/sunscreens were considered riskier applications irrespective of stakeholder, while familiarity with nanotechnology was associated with a reduced risk perception.


          Policy makers should consider the disparities in risk and trust perceptions between the public and influential stakeholders, placing greater emphasis on risk communication and the uncertainties of risk assessment in these areas of higher concern. Scientists being the highest trusted group are well placed to communicate the risks of nanotechnologies to the public.

          Electronic supplementary material

          The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12889-015-1795-1) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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          Most cited references47

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          A psychological study of the inverse relationship between perceived risk and perceived benefit.

          Judgments of risk and judgments of benefit have been found to be inversely related. Activities or technologies that are judged high in risk tend to be judged low in benefit, and vice versa. In the present study, we examine this inverse relationship in detail, using two measures of relationship between risk and benefit. We find that the inverse relationship is robust and indicative of a confounding of risk and benefit in people's minds. This confounding is linked to a person's overall evaluation of an activity or technology. Theoretical and practical implications of this risk-benefit confounding are discussed.
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            Cultural cognition of the risks and benefits of nanotechnology.

            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.
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              The Public and Nanotechnology: How Citizens Make Sense of Emerging Technologies


                Author and article information

                BMC Public Health
                BMC Public Health
                BMC Public Health
                BioMed Central (London )
                26 April 2015
                26 April 2015
                : 15
                : 424
                [ ]Menzies Centre for Health Policy, School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
                [ ]Environmental Health Branch, Health Protection NSW, 73 Miller St, North Sydney, Sydney, Australia
                [ ]University Centre for Rural Health, School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
                © Capon et al.; licensee BioMed Central. 2015

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

                : 23 December 2014
                : 22 April 2015
                Research Article
                Custom metadata
                © The Author(s) 2015

                Public health
                Public health
                nanotechnologies, risk, trust, perception, stakeholders


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