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

  • Ashley A. AndersonEmail author
  • Jiyoun Kim
  • Dietram A. Scheufele
  • Dominique Brossard
  • Michael A. Xenos


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.


Public opinion Public engagement Nanotechnology Definition 



This material is based upon work supported by grants from the National Science Foundation to the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University (Grant No. SES-0937591) and the UW-Madison Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center in Templated Synthesis and Assembly at the Nanoscale (Grant No. SES-DMR-0832760). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Ethical standards

The Social & Behavioral Science Institutional Review Board at the University of Wisconsin-Madison approved the use of human subjects in this research. Informed consent was obtained from all participants. Those contacted who did not consent to participate were terminated from the survey.

Supplementary material

11051_2013_1421_MOESM1_ESM.docx (15 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 14 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ashley A. Anderson
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  • Jiyoun Kim
    • 2
    • 4
  • Dietram A. Scheufele
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Dominique Brossard
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Michael A. Xenos
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Center for Climate Change CommunicationGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA
  2. 2.Department of Life Sciences CommunicationUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  3. 3.Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State UniversityGledaleUSA
  4. 4.Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center in Templated Synthesis and Assembly at the NanoscaleUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  5. 5.Department of Communication ArtsUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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