, 15:1421

What’s in a name? How we define nanotech shapes public reactions

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Abstract

Audiences are most likely to form their opinions about issues based on the aspects that are primed and easily available in their minds (Hastie and Park, Psychol Rev 93:258–268, 1986; Tversky and Kahneman, Cogn Psychol 5:207–232, 1973). In this study, we examine how priming people with various definitions of nanotechnology differently shapes public perceptions of and engagement with the technology. Using a randomized experimental design embedded in a representative survey of the U.S. population (n = 1,736), we find that defining nanotechnology in terms of novel applications increases public support for nanotechnology but does not motivate audiences to gather more information about it. In contrast, definitions highlighting the potential risks and benefits of nanotechnology can increase likelihood of future information seeking.