Altruism and skepticism in public attitudes toward food nanotechnologies

Research Paper


To better explore and understand the public's perceptions of and attitudes toward emerging technologies and food products, we conducted a US-based focus group study centered on nanotechnology, nano-food, and nano-food labeling. Seven focus groups were conducted in seven locations in two different US metropolitan areas from September 2010 to January 2011. In addition to revealing context-specific data on already established risk and public perception factors, our goal was to inductively identify other nano-food perception factors of significance for consideration when analyzing why and how perceptions and attitudes are formed to nanotechnology in food. Two such factors that emerged—altruism and skepticism—are particularly interesting in that they may be situated between different theoretical frameworks that have been used for explaining perception and attitude. We argue that they may represent a convergence point among theories that each help explain different aspects of both how food nanotechnologies are perceived and why those perceptions are formed. In this paper, we first review theoretical frameworks for evaluating risk perception and attitudes toward emerging technologies, then review previous work on public perception of nanotechnology and nano-food, describe our qualitative content analysis results for public perception toward nano-food—focusing especially on altruism and skepticism, and discuss implications of these findings in terms of how public attitudes toward nano-food could be formed and understood. Finally, we propose that paying attention to these two factors may guide more responsible development of nano-food in the future.


Food Nanotechnology Risk Consumer Perception Skepticism Altruism Societal implications 



This work was funded by National Science Foundation Grant NIRT Award SES-0709056 (Kuzma PI on subaward for U of MN, Berube PI NCSU) and supported in part by the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University. The authors would like to thank Profs. David Berube (NCSU) and Christopher Cummings (Nanyang Technological University) for valuable input on the work. The authors would also like to thank Andy Merrill for his work on organizing the focus groups. All three authors contributed equally to the manuscript: JB and JK designed the focus groups and oversaw their execution; JB and LF coded the data in NVivo; JB wrote the methods, portions of the introduction, and generated tables from the analysis; LF and JK wrote the introduction, results and discussion, and conclusions, including interpreting the results with respect to risk perception theory; JK developed the conceptual model in Fig. 2 and made revisions to the article based on the reviewer comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Educational Psychology, College of Education and Human DevelopmentUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  2. 2.Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  3. 3.School of Public and International Affairs and Genetic Engineering and Society CenterNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

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