Journal of Nanoparticle Research

, Volume 12, Issue 8, pp 2703-2715

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Making sense of policy choices: understanding the roles of value predispositions, mass media, and cognitive processing in public attitudes toward nanotechnology

  • Shirley S. HoAffiliated withWee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University Email author 
  • , Dietram A. ScheufeleAffiliated withDepartment of Life Sciences Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • , Elizabeth A. CorleyAffiliated withSchool of Public Affairs, Arizona State University


Using a nationally representative telephone survey of 1,015 adults in the United States, this study examines how value predispositions, communication variables, and perceptions of risks and benefits are associated with public support for federal funding of nanotechnology. Our findings show that highly religious individuals were less supportive of funding of nanotech than less religious individuals, whereas individuals who held a high deference for scientific authority were more supportive of funding of the emerging technology than those low in deference. Mass media use and elaborative processing of scientific news were positively associated with public support for funding, whereas factual scientific knowledge had no significant association with policy choices. The findings suggest that thinking about and reflecting upon scientific news promote better understanding of the scientific world and may provide a more sophisticated cognitive structure for the public to form opinions about nanotech than factual scientific knowledge. Finally, heuristic cues including trust in scientists and perceived risks and benefits of nanotech were found to be associated with public support for nanotech funding. We conclude with policy implications that will be useful for policymakers and science communication practitioners.


Mass media Elaborative processing Interpersonal discussion Risk Nanotechnology Societal implications ELSI